top of page

There was a time I was

by Em Dial

In 1990, a study by Judith Langlois and Lori Roggman found that computer-generated composite faces were more attractive when combining images of 32 faces, compared to those that combined 4, 8, or 16 faces. 



At the farmer’s market, I spread perfectly emulsified 

hummus across my tongue like a depressor at the

doctor’s office. It brings me to such a space of 

teasing goodness, that cream on my tongue, I nearly miss

the man asking me what I am, what my parents were.

Though he truncates his line of questioning there,

it stands that he means, as warranted, I must lay

all of my greats & great-greats, out, like wares, right there, 

on the table. A tree branching its way through tubs of 

tasters. You’re just so beautiful, he says, I need to know how come.

During the course of our conversation, I may have spent

a quarter of a calorie on taking in his words, spitting

out ones of my own. There’s a calculus to things ugly

and gleaming. I wasn’t supposed to be here yet. I’m one

generation too soon, one continent too many. I jumped

the line to exotic erection, tantalizing like a prototype

of an apple, despite the years of genetic tinkering

bringing it to our palms. In the 6th grade, and then the 12th,

my picture stamped the pages of the yearbook above the phrase

Best All Around Girl. Between those years, I cut myself

out of the pages with Venus brand razor blades. Wiped myself

off the face of the earth so many times in my mind. 

I didn’t desire the Best All Around Boys at all, so how could I be

what they wanted: a face of 16, a waiting room for 32. 

They wanted a well-rounded womb, I turned out a sharp edge

laying next to another, bright pills in both our squared palms. 

I’m sorry sociologists & Class of 2006 & of 2013 & Time Magazine— 

forgive my resignation from my position as Head of Shrunken

Ocean, Ambassador to Sexed Mediums and Modes. I otherwise

am playing the part like a broken sauce, a tip of hair split all the way 

to the root.

Em Dial is a queer, Black, Taiwanese, Japanese, and White, chronically ill poet, grower, and educator born and raised on Ohlone land in the Bay Area of California. A 2022 Kundiman Fellow and recipient of the 2020 PEN Canada New Voices Award and the 2019 Mary C. Mohr Poetry Award, their work also appears in or is forthcoming from the Literary Review of Canada, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Sonora Review, and elsewhere.

"What Spins Down" by Michael T. Young

"Her Thoughts as She Looked Back" by Brooke Dwojak Lehmann

bottom of page