unveil themselves in dark. They hang, each a jagged, silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright as polished knives. They swim the muddled air and keen like supersonic babies, the sound we imagine empty wombs might make in women who can’t fill them up. A clasp, a scratch, a sigh. They drink fruit dry. And wheel, against feverish light flung hard upon their faces, in circles that nauseate. Imagine one at breast or neck, Patterning a name in driblets of iodine that spatter your skin stars. They flutter, shake like mystics. They materialize. Revelatory as a stranger’s underthings found tossed upon the marital bed, you tremble even at the thought. Asleep, you tear your fingers and search the sheets all night.
–From the immigration questionnaire given to Chinese entering or re-entering the U.S. during the Chinese Exclusion Act
Have you ridden in a streetcar?
Can you describe the taste of bread?
Where are the joss houses located in the city?
Do Jackson Street and Dupont run
in a circle or a line, what is the fruit
your mother ate before she bore you,
how many letters a year
do you receive from your father?
Of which material is your ancestral hall
now built? How many water buffalo
does your uncle own?
Do you love him? Do you hate her?
What kind of bird sang
at your parents’ wedding? What are the birth dates
for each of your cousins: did your brother die
from starvation, work, or murder?
Do you know the price of tea here?
Have you ever touched a stranger’s face
as he slept? Did it snow the year
you first wintered in our desert?
How much weight is
a bucket and a hammer? Which store
is opposite your grandmother’s?
Did you sleep with that man
for money? Did you sleep with that man
for love? Name the color and number
of all your mother’s dresses. Now
your village’s rivers.
What diseases of the heart
do you carry? What country do you see
when you think of your children?
Does your sister ever write?
In which direction does her front door face?
How many steps did you take
when you finally left her?
How far did you walk
before you looked back?