by Jesse Chen
for my mother

She packs a bag, or two, or ten and gets
her hair permed, types up goodbye
letters for her friends then picks out
a new coat (wool, pink) at the store because she hears
Boston winters are freezing.

The day comes, and she gets on a plane
with too much luggage and too little English
and not enough money and just enough hope
for the American Dream and flies
from an island in the Pacific to a city in the States.

In Taiwan she is pretty; in America
she is exotic. Boys chase after her, boys
of every shape, color, size, religion,
boys who tell her she is gorgeous and ask
to take her out, boys who drive her places
and boys who do her laundry.

Some of the boys catch her eye, but none
keep it. She runs out of money and drops out,
starts working for a radio station.
On a blind date she meets my father,
ten years older than her—a proper man.

They go on a second date.
A proposal, because they are both growing
older and because their families are asking
and because they are almost eight
thousand miles from home and it feels
good to have somebody that misses the same
place even if they miss it differently.

A wedding. A fight over who to invite. A move
to New Jersey. An argument
over houses. A child. A snide comment
about baby weight. A job. A fight
over whose money is whose and my mother’s
new purse. Another child. More fights.

The awkward angles of my mother’s hips
and English soften. A haircut. A dye job.
Another haircut. She signs us up for ballet.
My father asks what the point is, asks why take away
from time we could be studying. She says the point
is that everybody likes to feel beautiful sometimes.

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