Mama, Come Back

Nellie Wong
Mama, come back.
Why did you leave
now that I am learning you?
The landlady next door
how she apologizes
for my rough brown skin
to her tenant from Hong Kong
as if I were her daughter,
as if she were you.

How do I say I miss you
your scolding
your presence
your roast loin of pork
more succulent, more tender
than any hotel chef's?

The fur coat you wanted 
making you look like a polar bear
and the mink-trimmed coat
I once surprised you
on Christmas morning.

Mama, how you said "importment"
for important,
your gold tooth flashing
an insecurity you dared not bare,
wanting recognition
simply as eating noodles
and riding in a motor car
to the supermarket
the movie theater
adorned in your gold and jade
as if all your jewelry
confirmed your identity
a Chinese woman in America.

How you said "you better"
always your last words
glazed through your dark eyes
following me fast as you could
one November evening in New York City
how I thought "Hello, Dolly!"
showed you an America 
you never saw.

How your fear of being alone
kept me dutiful in body
resentful in mind.
How my fear of being single
kept me
from moving out.

How I begged your forgiveness
after that one big fight
how I wasn't wrong
but needed you to love me
as warmly as you hugged strangers.

From Death of a Long Steam Lady by Nellie Wong, published by West End Press. Copyright © 1986 by Nellie Wong. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Nellie Wong