Immigration questions for Chinese claiming to be former
US residents, or for Chinese entering the country 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 his 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 the 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?
From West: A Translation (Copper Canyon Press, 2023) by Paisley Rekdal. Copyright © 2023 by Paisley Rekdal. Used with the permission of the publisher.