Teaching Yiyun Li's "Love in the Marketplace,"
whose struggle with integrity ought to speak
to the college set, I explain the Casablanca reference
and serve four dozen tea eggs—what the vendor
in the story sells, spending more than she has to
on ingredients. I too have spent more than I have to,
seeking out eggs raised with integrity
and using my home spices, which I special-order
or cart home from a city. I've cooked the eggs
with the care with which I make them for my kids;
as it turns out, they're headed for my kids
anyway. Most of the class won't try them.
"It's a hard-boiled egg, with soy sauce, salt,
black tea, star anise," I say. Only star anise
ought to be alien. "Yes, they know those things,"
a colleague says later, "but they don't know those things
together." The few who eat say nothing: my students are polite.
As my kids inch toward this age, I see the students' fragility,
their growing kindness. Later I put the eggs on the department
lunch counter. Some professors eat, but these aren't doughnuts:
at day's end, I'm taking home more non-doughnuts
than we can use before they spoil. The kids' eyes pop.
It's a windfall, but they're miffed. "It's Literature and Food!
They signed up. Aren't they interested in food?"
The future has become too much like the recent past:
college is a grade-school cafeteria, except the kids are past
making faces, remarks. You might as well let your true love
fly away with someone else. The day I brought potato chips
was more popular and less work. But what do potato chips
have to do with integrity? It's a classroom, not a marketplace.
Adrienne Su's most recent book is Living Quarters, from Manic D Press. Her previous collections are The Middle Kingdom, Sanctuary, and Having None of It. Her work has been anthologized in The New American Poets, Best American Poetry, The Pushcart Prize XXIV, and Asian-American Poetry: The Next Generation, and her honors, along with her Pushcart Prize, include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and residencies at the Fine Arts Works Center and The Frost Place. Born and raised in Atlanta, she teaches at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.