In an old Chinatown classroom
she uncaps dried markers
and folds scratch paper.
I lean forward to see her name,
pinned, crooked, to her shoulder.
That’s a beautiful name, I tell her.
She shakes her head.
call me Charlotte.
Six years ago I drew only thin girls
in floral dresses. They
always frowned with
purple lips and porcelain eyes.
Each had a name,
sprouting across the
page in inked plumes:
Anastasia, Evangeline, Coletta.
She drops a chewed pencil into my hand.
Can you draw me?
With graphite, I sculpt her eyes,
round as lychee seeds.
Do you want me to color them?
She nods, hand hovering over
a torn box of washable markers.
She picks up a blue pen.
Blue? I say. Are you sure?
She pries open my fist,
an oyster of flesh, and lays the
marker inside, a still-warm pearl.
In the bathroom, I hung my drawings,
pencil smearing with soap.
Each morning as I brushed
my teeth with sweet toothpaste
and bent to spit out foam,
I flinched at my reflection.
She watches as I uncap the marker,
the plastic click echoing.
I fill each bullet-sized hole
I was lucky.
During my elementary years,
I was surrounded by freckled
dolls packaged in silk bows.
But for ten years, I forgot
the color of my own hair and eyes.
I held only icy marbles in my palms and
and four-syllable names with rolled r’s
that I could not pronounce.
She smiles, takes the drawing,
scrawls Charlotte at the bottom,
tucks it into her bag.
Bye, I say. When she turns, I drop the
brown marker into her backpack.
Keep drawing, Yihua.
Visual Art by Heidi Songqian Li.