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The white scorpion in Barstow, California, as imagined by poet and critic Ezekiel Yu when recalling his childhood.

MEMOIR: A White Scorpion In Barstow, California

Our house in Barstow, California was small for a family of seven but its backyard was quite sizable, except there was no grass. It was all sand, like the desert that surrounded us, and featureless save for a pit in the center packed with stones. We didn’t really play in the backyard, even when we had friends over, because there was nothing to do there and it was always hot. Barstow is a small city scoured by the Mojave sun and for the year we lived there I quickly learned that I was not one for deserts and never would be. Nor was I one for small cities. Certainly not this one, full of old buildings, lean against their own shadows, and people just about as destitute as we were, who regarded us with mean amusement and called us names.

I don’t recall them with hatred because I know that there weren’t many who looked like us in that city and it’s easy to react harshly to the unfamiliar face. Even then I was more confused that they’d treat with such cruelty those who were clearly afraid of their own strangeness and more a threat to themselves than others. No hatred, but I recall them (and they were mostly other children) not without certain pangs: walking home from school, many would jeer at us in mock-Chinese, which we didn’t speak, and on the playground some would stretch their eyes out narrowly enough so as to not resemble a human face at all. […]