Writing Portfolio- Karen Zheng Age 17, Grade 12, Stuyvesant High School, Gold Key

Chinatown, seven years old
Mother and I in all-purpose store; blazing past packaged foods, school supplies, and walls
of circuits and cords on our way to get next item on shopping list
Glance to right as we enter another aisle. On the shelf just above eye-level, see packages of—
is that money?
Slow down as she plows forth

Mother always okays grabbing grapes from fruit stands, always opens packages
before purchasing to make sure everything’s there
Break through flimsy plastic and count out one, two, three, four one-
hundred dollar bills. At home,
put one on each pocket of Daddy’s paperwork folder, one under
older brother Sammy’s pillow, and the last one under my pillow
Fall asleep excited. Wake up and everyone is tense. Wash hands
with Sammy in the kitchen sink after throwing out money
Daddy tells me: It’s not real.
It’s death money, the kind burned at funerals.

South Bronx, fourteen years old
Daddy told me when I was little how he and Mother earned about one-hundred dollars
each per fourteen hour day. Unbelievable.Standing—no, leaning, after
just four hours—at the counter,
taking orders, working the cash register, and picking up the phone
Need a break

34th St, six years old
Huddling and crouched on a towel on the street with Sammy,
surrounded by people with necks craned equally as far
as ours, struggling to see the Macy’s floats and balloons
Parents behind us, chatting in Fujianese through the November air, smiling
and nodding when we point out the spectacles coming our way
Only day out of three hundred and sixty-five they both take off of work
Restaurant doesn’t serve turkey anyway. Thought we could have a family day
when I took the death money

Queens, fourteen years old
Interviewing Mother for English paper. One hour in
and finally learn the details of the vague stories she uses to teach me lessons
Pulled out of school in eighth grade to work in a sewing factory with
her mother, a career which lasted fifteen years
Ask her what she wanted to be. A teacher, she says.
Realizes she’s talking to me, and corrects herself: No,
a doctor. You have the chance to follow my dream now, and help people,
and be rich

Queens, fifteen years old
Sammy starts wearing expensive, designer clothing
No idea how he affords all of it—doesn’t have a job, and we only get
twenty dollars a week for lunch money. Gets arrested stealing
sushi from Stop N’ Shop. Daddy comes home from restaurant and asks me
What do I know? Nothing. Screams
“Fuck you!” before slamming the door and driving to the precinct
Watch the steam rise from the soup in the kitchen

Here, now
Still don’t want to be a doctor. Never want to have to
worry about money. Hoping my family
will be proud of me
Not sure where I’m going, but know I want to write
I want to write their stories, I want to write my stories,
I just want to write stories

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