Naturalization

His tongue shorn, father confuses
snacks for snakes, kitchen for chicken.
It is 1992. Weekends, we paw at cheap
silverware at yard sales. I am told by mother
to keep our telephone number close,
my beaded coin purse closer. I do this.
The years are slow to pass, heavy-footed.
Because the visits are frequent, we memorize
shame’s numbing stench. I nurse nosebleeds,
run up and down stairways, chew the wind.
Such were the times. All of us nearsighted.
Grandmother prays for fortune
to keep us around and on a short leash.
The new country is ill-fitting, lined
with cheap polyester, soiled at the sleeves.

More by Jenny Xie

Letters to Du Fu

I paid a visit to the province of a past year        aided by a pot of wine
self-contempt erects a wide frame        almost anyone can pass through

So unruly are my needs        who would own up to it
Only a fool would try to imitate the arrow        before letting go the bow

Du Fu, do not attempt this journeying        with a whip of effort
to speed up your travel        step backward into the broad forgetting

They say too much brooding        elongates the mind
Everywhere one lands        the train arrives at the depot early or late

Fruitless to try and compare        your searching lines
with the rain’s heavy lather        I’ll take instead the shaved surface of the moon

We are wiped of age first thing in the morning        sleep is a light wash
and don’t we know it        we are wrung and wrung

Square Cells

The screens plant bulbs
of tension inward, but hit no nerves.

River of speechless current.
My gaze faces the screen, laps up

blue-eyed policemen in bloom
and a fat fog fanning out by the inch

across cities in eastern China.
Refresh for a politician yawning

wolfish monosyllables.
In the bed of pixels, I can make out

truth and fiction taking turns,
one imitating the other.

My window faces stone and glass.
My screen faces my face.

The clean square cells of this city
contain so many faces.

Each brightened by a fear
which makes them commonplace.

Inwardly

The lightest realizations arrive in restraint—
so the old masters tell us.

Not unlike the tug at the end of a line.
 

We have language for what is within reach
but not the mutable form behind it.

Or else, why write.
 

I’m sick of peering at the ego.
No, my ego’s tired of peering at me

It’s she who awakens me into being.

So it goes: the seer mistaken for the seen.

Related Poems

Looking at My Father

It’s the inside which comes out, as I contemplate
him there half in sunlight, weeding diligently
a Midwestern lawn. On my persons, I have only notes
and a drying pen, the memory of onion blossoms
scenting in a window. Reflection is my native medium.
I am never arriving, only speaking briefly on material
conditions between myself and others. My country
inoculates me lovingly, over time. My country grasps me
like desire. I will show you my credentials, which is to say
my vivid description, if you ask. Here we are, my father
and I, never hostile, a small offering: pointless cut flowers
appear on the kitchen table when one finally arrives
into disposable income. Still possible. Am I living? Do I
accept revision as my godhead and savior?
I do and I am, and in the name of my Chinese father now
dragging the tools back inside, brow shining but always
a grin, faithless except to protect whatever I still have time
to become, Amen.