The Colorism Issue: Poetry Roundup

Each issue we feature pieces of poetry and prose from Asian womxn around the world. Here are this issue’s pieces:

“Pretty” by Fatima Ali

They told me I wasn’t pretty 
because my brown Skin wasn’t pale like porcelain 
Because my chocolate eyes aren’t as azure as seas and oceans
Because my thick dark curly hair wasn’t thin and blonde like a barbie doll.

Now they spend thousands of dollars on spray tans
Now they wear black contact lenses
Now they perm their  hair and dye it black.

“Coloring a Mixed Woman Grey” by Kai Tokiyeda

I was born to be kept behind shut doors
but my summers, oh
how they kissed my skin and named me 
“Grey”

One side of my family, oh
how they scrubbed my skin and called me
“Dirty” and “Black”
Words made behind shut doors
meant to keep me shut in some more

I missed a life of color and wisdom,
scrubbing my skin clean of the summers 
and sunshine that colored 
my youth, my narrative
my beautiful and radiant heritage

I shine too brightly for them now
I long to be like one of them now
All of them
A prism that reflects the colors I am,
not the untouched pigment and muted words 
I became behind the shut doors

I hope it’s not too late for me now
I hope I didn’t scrub too hard
I didn’t know color until I saw my first rainbow
Oh, but how can you know
what color you are
when you were born into a sun that colored you 

grey?

visual confection” by Cynthia Putri Iskandar

apple in the mirror

no palindromes, it isn’t clear-cut
eyelashes flutter, hormones in a rut
sweet honeysuckle, longing for nectar
my hand kissed, you are a beggar 

but when the tomato mellowed
no one wants the sour, savoury 
they want the sweet apple pie
baked with the plumpest cherry

lips part, but close with one another
are we doves, birds of a feather
your hands trickle, down my thighs
all you want to hear, my mournful sighs 

but when the tomato mellowed
no one wants the sour, savoury 
they want the sweet apple pie
baked with the plumpest cherry

isn’t she lovely, your child bride
you can penetrate, with mere sight
but she gazes back, the abyss stark
and you shudder, you withdraw back

but when the tomato mellowed
no one wants the sour, savoury 
they want the sweet apple pie
baked with the plumpest cherry

tomato, tomato 
what am i

to your eye

“sometimes grief is brown” by Mikaela Lucido

we like to dress up “brown” stuff it with frilly words with frillier sounds: caramel, toffee, mocha because a coffee order is easier to stomach than the swoop of your nose. that stretch of skin under the neck.

we like to string ourselves up with lights because we think we need ornaments to glow.

but your face over there by the window is already making stars out of smoke

and you are gone now

into that vast darkness littered in lights with colours we have not yet named colours we have not yet bastardized colours that could not measure up to the steady way you laughed, so sharp and shameless

or the way you loved: winsome and true and ferociously brown.

“My Color” By Saakshi Philip

Those moments in a conversation
Where you try to recall a certain movie character you’re reminded of,
Where the first words you manage to form
Are colors.
But oh no,
You aren’t using the color yellow to describe a person
As happy or chirpy or bright
You’re using the color black
And placing a label on that character
As if the color of their skin defines who they are.

When you look at me
The only color you should be noticing 
Is the ravishing brown color of my eyes
Which shimmer in the spotlight of the sunlight. 
My brown skin is not the first thing 
That should cross your mind about my character.
The first thoughts that come to your mind
About my exterior look
Are basic pieces of proof of the stereotype 
That people can’t seem to look past.

If you’d actually focused on my eyes
You’d see the wonder and joy that fills them,
The sadness and worry that encircles them
And the anger that causes them
To simultaneously scrunch up with my nose.
When you think of my culture
And how I am associated with it,
You should think of the festivals that ignite my joy,
The traditions that build my character
And how the way I dress or speak
Simply reflects the way I was brought up.

Everyone says that diversity should be celebrated.
Where’s that enthusiasm when people of color
Are discriminated against?
And why does this happen?
Because you choose to follow the ideas of a stereotype?
Where’s that enthusiasm when people are taught to be silent
Because of their gender, identity, or culture?
You claim that diversity is celebrated through movies and shows and whatnot
But it’s all a mask
That you force onto the screens so that you aren’t criticized. 

The only color you should notice
Are the beautiful specs of blue in my eyes,
The kind that reminds you of the ocean
Or the variations of green in my eyes,
Which you could look through
And picture a forest almost to its most intricate detail.
The color of my skin does not define who I am.

My eyes can tell you that story. 

“My Shades of Summer Skin” by Abigail Calimaran

My summer skin is a shade of shortbread.
Mother stops calling me beautiful
After afternoons spent by the pool.
She grew up hating her wet-sand skin —
It’s two shades darker than her sister’s.
She says, “I want you to love yourself.”
She smiles sadly when I tell her, “I do.”

My summer skin is a shade of syrup.
Friends tell me it’s beautiful while
Their shoulders are peeling and red.
I say back with a smirk, “I don’t burn.”
An Asian woman is set on fire.
The sun is much kinder to us than people’s hate.

My summer skin is a shade of sepia.
It will fade in the fall.
It will wash away in the winter.
My mother will call me beautiful again.
I’ll look at my yellow skin and smile
When my boyfriend calls me buttercup.
His sister slathers herself in Jergens Natural Glow.
Meanwhile, I’ll think of more shades of summer skin
That start with the letter S.

“An Ode to the Color Yellow” by Lee 이 Therese
Insta: @nat_lee__therese

this skin of mine
yellow gold turned to sun
burst
let’s the sun paint it the color
of her ancestors’ earth

looks like the pale daffodil of a harvest moon
and she glows
let the light hit this skin
watch it refract like citrine
turn yellow jade in the summer shade

a shapeshifter expert in gold tones
perhaps this skin is royal in a way
this skin, Mother Nature
color of the sunset and plumeria
color of her Mother and Father

this skin rich like honey
welcomes the buzz of the bees
and the warmth of spring
slow moving and sweet
look at the dandelions dance in the wind
they say they are weeds
but i think they are sunspots in the grass
i think Mother Nature decided this green needed more color
this white needed more tone

this skin
marigold tinted
wheat field tinged
lantern light glow

to quote the song“and it was all yellow”

“one summer i came home half a shade tanner” by Catherine Xia

than i was before.
i had not noticed,
but my mother most certainly
did.

as i exfoliated my legs
that evening with a scrub, removing the
excess dead skin and trying
to see what else i could
remove along with it,
i kept thinking that if i just scrubbed hard
enough that maybe i could get
rid of the stretch marks
that litter my thighs and hips
or maybe if i just scrubbed hard
enough i could get rid of the
dirt that tanned my whole body
that much darker.

of course, it does not
work.

it removes the dead skin,
but nothing else.

as i apply a milk toner that says it will lighten
and brighten and whiten
my skin, i play the fool.
the toner does not mean
it literally, it is just advertising
healthy looking skin that
just so happens to be fair-
skinned. but as i spill the toner
onto a white cotton pad,
i keep thinking that if i used
enough toner that all of the
blemishes on my face will disappear
along with all of the redness that
distracts my skin from its ideal
fairness. i keep thinking that if i
used enough toner, i may look the same
color as the bottle it came from.

of course, it does not
work.

i buy into the lies
my mother has bought into.

she tells me that it’s alright.
that if i just stay inside, i will
naturally get
lighter. fairer. whiter.

and as a result, i will get
p r e t t i e r.

of course, this works.

i lose the barely-there tan
that i had unwillingly achieved.

and yet, to my mother’s dismay,
i still attract
unwanted attention.

she wonders why it is
not enough that i fall under
the same foundation range as them.

of course, it is not
enough.

she buys into the lies
that i have bought into.

“Nativity’s Blush” by Annie James

Ivory muslin parting for a newborn:
As a biped extrudes from an eggshell,
A frangible opacity splinters for
A drape of walnut, pecan, peanut.
In amniotic waters, a blush musters.

A waddle of an aviary, in nidus and in fugere,
Disappears with their filial imprint;
Dazed infants tenderly scrunch into
Depressions of cedar, maple, birch.
Associating eyes eat away at a color.

Under a translucent banner of birthing waters,
Progenitors endured by bands of melanocyte,
Parents forfeit by bearing fluid.
Persons index by fairness:
Gouged and wielded from epidermal layers,
Great chocolate, mocha, creme
Graze an ire borne of witnessing irreverence
Uniform in surges outwards, eroding a shell wall.

Should organelles cease in function,
Foliage-givers and brine-replenishers notwithstanding,
Free they might they be in forewater hues of gossamer, transparent, clear;
Forever however does melanin thrum away, sun and eyes caught alike,
Say, in what terrene waters are we laid to rest once we pass?

“The Flayer” by Marina Ali

Thick skinned and well built,
I am made for every fight.

I bruise and cut
But my skin is my protection.
I am so formidable
That I can get out of touch;
Everyone else can be mere mortals.

Yet the Flayer finds me.
It compromises me
When It peels back every layer,
There is nowhere to hide
I can only cower before It.

The horror of the Flayer 
Keeps children and fools afraid,
A scary campfire story,
But the wise will know
The Flayer peeps in sight.

It creeps in the space closest to me.
The Flayer exists in my chest.
It occupies the shadow in under my nails
And hides on my back,
Disappearing every time I turn around.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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