today’s lucky numbers
reblogged from fascinasians
Lucky girl, they call me. Fortune cookie girl.
But it is not luck folded in the crevice
behind my ribs, underneath my heart.
Year of the hare, but no rabbit’s feet here;
I braid clovers into my hair
because we don’t collect those in China,
don’t press them between book pages –
we have been told over the years
that magic can’t grow from the ground,
that the Yellow River ran us a yellow
brick road across the Pacific but paled
in comparison to America’s Golden Gates.
We buried fathers and husbands and sons
in the only cemetery you can see from the moon,
their spirits walling in the greatness we
have always known we could be,
only to come here, generations later,
to lay our nameless bones down as railroad track,
spirits locked to a country
we had wrongly named beautiful.
Lucky girl, they call me, but never
my name, too afraid of tripping over the soft corners
of a language I spent seventeen years
wanting so desperately to forget,
only to find it tattooed on the soles of my feet,
reminding me always what it is that lifts me.
I spent years committing the Pledge
of Allegiance to memory,
but I rolled out of my mother’s womb
with a mouth full of 中文,
my teeth gripping the edges of a country
that will always come first.
Fortune cookie girl, they call me, made in America,
who are you trying to fool.
I am only lucky once every twelve years,
but the red I wear for the lunar year
is the red of the United States is the red of China, and
I have never understood why it was the North Star
that pointed home when it was only ever
yellow stars I could see.
102012. How Every Dinner Should Go
I am glad dinner was pleasant but nondescript.
You paid me a compliment on my best features
and some of the ones I tried to hide as well.
We made small talk for forty minutes,
tiptoeing around anything
that might’ve shown character.
I felt a quiet thrill every time
you leaned over the table,
your knee knocked politely into mine,
and when it turned out you were fluent
in the same dialect of Chinese my father speaks.
At the end, we liked each other enough
to split a dessert but not the check.
We both said goodbye
satisfied we hadn’t been extraordinary,
and grateful the other hadn’t been either.
090512. for myself. for j.
remember thinking - what can this boy teach me
about what I love, your syllables thick
with the Chicago streets you came from,
I thought you were just another wannabe
rapper from a mid-sized city spitting something
about a history you would half make up, half appropriate.
But that could’ve been any stage,
and it still would’ve been just you, the microphone,
and the truth, and sometimes, John,
I want to cry when I think about that night.
I played your mixtape the ten hours back to Iowa,
made up my mind not to let that
be the last I saw of you, boy
with the voice that reminded me
everything of my mother’s kitchen.
You loved your history so much
you made a name out of it.
Vietnam, John, Nguyen.
I was still a girl when I realized
that if there was a woman inside me somewhere,
she has one hand around her neck
already old enough to know better,
another halfway to her mouth,
already learning how to hold her tongue.
It took me too many years to love
all the dragon women living in my bones.
How often was I told my voice
would never amount to much
if it kept kissing the tongue of a different country, even if
it licked all the backbone I admire in my mother
The first time my mother tried to tell me she loved me
she had said too many things
neither of us could forgive.
It was an attempt at an apology,
but it sounded so angry and unwilling -
there was too much teeth
for me to even think it could be love.
In my family, no one says “I love you”
to indicate loving. Instead we say,
"I’m thinking of you,"
"Study well," and
"See you soon." I realize
how cold, how clumsy it must sound in English,
how much the mouth has to move,
and, even after it all, how unsatisfying.
The first time, I had to ask if he loved me,
and I savored it on my tongue like a piece of sugar,
relishing the taste of the words.
How easy it must have been to say,
and how easily it went down.
Since then, I have taken to asking
if he thinks of me, and when, and
if he wants to see me and, if so, how much.
I realize how clumsy that must sound,
how it must sound as if
I am asking for too much too often,
but loving my mother has taught me
always to ask for more.
I know now how young I was then.
So much girl and not enough woman,
you must have realized you
were the first man to ever call me beautiful.
You empty-fisted, sharp-toothed
lion of a poet.
Can you really blame me
for taking your beautiful
and running with it?
I have never met a woman
more prone to enjoying small things
Your frankenstein enjoyment of the obscure,
the precious, and the sentimental makes me think -
God, your childhood must have been glorious.
I’m thinking gardens and forehead kisses
and the kind of air you can only find in upstate New York,
and sisters, of course - sisters
upon sisters upon sisters.
And people wonder
how you grew up so well.
My mother takes out the photographs every time I am home -
look, she says. Just look. You are old enough, you are pretty still,
just look. Hopeful but desperate, my mother the divorcée knows better
than to talk to me about love. But good matches, she knows.
Handsome boys, Ivy League credentials, stability, she knows.
I once brought a boy home for Christmas. We held hands
the entire plane ride. I didn’t quite join the mile-high club,
but my hopes sure did. He plays piano,
I had told my mother over the phone.
He’s going to law school. He has wonderful eyebrows.
We spent a perfect week in New York. Though my mother
was unimpressed when she saw the pictures, I am grateful
she didn’t bring out the photographs. I’d figured it out,
I thought. I was old enough to know - the piano never lies,
after all. Nor law school. And those eyebrows!
I brought him home for two more Christmases,
but couldn’t bear to bring him home for a fourth.
I flew home by myself that winter, hands heavy and alone.
My mother, the great comfort, brings out the photographs again.
Look, she says, as gentle as she knows, look. This boy, this one here -
he has eyebrows just like that one you liked so much.
You are pretty the same way a July sunset is ‘pretty’ -
it took me years with you before I realized that you were.
We wrote each other letters for every summer we spent apart,
and I can admit now that I lied sometimes.
I’m sure you did too. We wanted the best for each other so badly
we made up the best for ourselves, too.