portraitures and erasures
it ends my sleep to want my story about
my skin melting in the sun that day of
summer and a doctor who tells me i am dying,
that thing i hide under my nails like dirt
scratched from summer skin.
so i pick up a pencil and begin to erase myself.
erasure is sometimes editing.
immigration is always editing.
my father with the heart that chokes
him in his sleep, in his shorter and shorter
walks around concrete and glass sculptures,
around mother who keeps leaning one
way then the other at the precipice of fall
as he yells promises at her to keep her alive.
in this journey that began with his misstep
across waters and languages and his
hands on my face teaching me to long
how did he mean to rewrite me—
what will i say to the sky and the soil
neither foreign or home when they are
all gone leaving me to hold our name up
alone when i am neither tree nor
in the mirror i look for my head that
has begun to shake, the weight of how
much i am afraid, how it makes me look
like mother when i was a boy—seeing
it for the first time in her, demanding
she make it stop—
this fear of sleep has kept me up for years
did you know? because in dreams there is always
a point when your mother dies while
you are traveling through space searching
for your lost child and other such
i spent the day moving my body, guided
by a stranger’s voice and somewhere
on the floor my bones recognized pain
told me that in this too / (that is my body)
there are borders to cross
there are borders not meant to cross
interstitial—it’s a new word i learned
something about the space between
things, but it is obvious like my body that
wants to break, that space is the thing not
the between, the mass that cannot be occupied
a space between spaces that tell me
i am a child of none
i capture my hand grasping at the sky outside
the window of another plane in mid-flight.
it was orange. it wasn’t anything.
and the hand belonged to no one.
there was only the reaching.
Copyright © 2018 by Chiwan Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“The poem was written while I was on a flight. I was looking at the orange horizon and remembering the time we moved from Korea to Paraguay. And this made me wonder once more what my parents must think about the fact that their two sons don’t have children, that their lineage ends with us. Did they ever imagine this when they decided to leave our homeland, imagine that they would die, their legacies too, on foreign soil?”
Chiwan Choi is the author of three collections of poetry, including The Yellow House (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017).
Date Published: 2018-11-20
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/portraitures-and-erasures