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.
Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
“‘Naturalization’ is part of a smaller series of poems that thinks through the cruel logic of cultural assimilation: putting pressure on immigrants to adopt the language and customs of the dominant culture while finding their attempts to do so flawed and inauthentic. The poem also touches upon the renewing sense of shame in being betrayed by one’s need.”