Sorboni Banerjee


Tommy Baxter


Theresa Edo


Erin Jang


Michelle Kearns


Madelyn Rosenberg Lazorchak


Jay Rubin


Sarah Williams

Introductory Essay


By Erin Jang

She slapped the back of my hand.

Dah-shee-heh. Do it over, my grandmother said. I had put too little meat in the dumpling. Not enough meat meant the dumpling would not hold in boiling water. She was too busy to look up as she told me this—her fingers were pinching creases to seal tight her dumpling, and her eyebrows mimicked this movement, pinching the folds of skin between her beady eyes like dough for every dumpling crease made.

I rolled my eyes and huffed. I was eight and I did not want to fix my dumpling. I did not like my grandmother that winter she had come to stay with my family. She was always scolding, always correcting, never smiling.

She made me help her make trays of dumplings. We would freeze the dumplings; half of them we would save and serve on New Year’s Day and the other half we would save for meals when my mother would be too tired to cook.

I looked at the one tray we had covered so far. She had probably made 40 of those dumplings and I only ten. I could tell which ones were mine: lopsided and loose packages from poor pinching and too little meat inside. I could pick out hers: smooth and symmetrical half-moon shapes that swelled in the middle from just the right portion of filling, with creases along the curved edge of the dumpling that looked like they were pinched to the beat of a metronome.

Her perfect dumplings bothered me, as did almost everything else about her.

I remember when she first arrived at our home in New Jersey. My grandmother stood in the doorway emotionless and said in Korean my have you grown so big and grabbed my rear as if to measure how much I’d exactly grown. I ran to my room. She still does this every time I return to Seattle to visit her. Only now, when I am not looking, she squeezes my breasts as if she is testing the ripeness of plums in the produce section of the supermarket. My have you grown big, she still says.

During her visit my grandmother slept in my small room and I remember how much I did not like that. For the first time I had my own room, separate from my sister, and with her there, sleeping on the floor, I once again had to share space. I hated the way she snored, I hated the way she coughed to clear the mucus deep in her throat and I hated the way her hands trembled when she would take a spoonful of blue laxative liquid every night before bed, always dripping some on her tan long johns.

I used to secretly call her ah-guh. Alligator. There was a wrinkly roughness to her skin and a stubborn leatherness about her; I thought of her as slow-moving but calculating, alert with those vertical pupils of hers that made her seem cold and critical only toward me. She smelled of a strange mixture of pungent ginger, Chanel face powder and the silver herbal mints from the oriental market that tasted like mothballs; and that made me want to avoid getting close to her.

I did not like her gold teeth or the way she burped after drinking 7-Up or the way she called V-8 juice “bwee-heht.” No, Grandma, I would say sucking my teeth, trying to correct her, like she was always correcting me. Vee-ayht! Vee-ayht!

On Saturday mornings, I especially hated her. Every week she made my sister and I sit down with her to pray and read the Bible in Korean. I would hear her call my name and I would make Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck talk louder and louder and pretend not to hear her until eventually, after her fifth or sixth call, I felt awful and stomped upstairs to my room where she was waiting.

There was so much I did not like about my grandmother that winter many years ago. And when I remember this and think about it now I feel very ashamed. I feel ashamed because I do not understand why I hated her so much. Ashamed because it is only now that I remember certain things: Things like the way she would, just after sunrise, tiptoe to my bed and adjust my blankets with a strange tenderness and cover my cold toes while I pretend to be sleeping. Or memories like the one day I was sick and I stayed home from school, alone with my grandmother, and how, that day, she came to me with a plate of the dumplings we had made, some of hers, some of mine, with soy sauce streaking those white moon shapes like tears. I remember now the steam from the dumplings fogged her glasses. She sat close beside me on our worn sofa. She smiled and whispered, Muh-guh-rah. Eat, dear.