Back to Issue Thirty-Nine

Diasporic

BY SHARON LIN
Finalist for the 2021 Adroit Prize for Poetry

 

I have had enough of these chicken feet
poems, R says. Everyone is repeating
each other: moon, river, fish. So
I write about castles, Iowa,
that tow truck my dad never had. It’s easy
to make up a life when you’re
looking for a story. I tell my class during
show-and-tell, these shells were from
my mother’s dowry, not mollusks I plucked
off the beach. It’s a shame
I carry with me, unshakeable. I learned
to be an imposter was not a skill they taught
at sixteen, so I wrote about wandering,
disappointment. The editors love
sorrow. I read Jonathan Franzen then
and David Foster Wallace, voices I wasn’t
supposed to have in my head. I’m not always lost
in China. I’m mistaken for a local, I know half
the words, I get by and I know no one
here. In every Chinatown, it’s the same squalor
like time never passes, like the Chinaman
is always wearing faded silk. I need
to get out of my head. I travel
in a train passing palm trees, groves, Salinas, dust bowls,
a crow hopping by the side of the track, broken
wing, no crows around. It’s the same story told
backwards, returning to the heartland, foreign faces racing
to the city, fields planted gold. I find photos
from Tuka of rolling grass and yaks, pink
beads and bells and cheeks without bones. Passing
a golf course, a boy in red—his name is Kyle,
he lives in San Clemente, he has his entire life
planned. My name is Sharon, I live
and god I can’t say more. I think there is no
better place to be. Once in a class
where we made dumplings and discussed
migration. We are shaped by larger forces,
the professor said. A force to push us back
in place, pegs loose and rolling. To find myself,
I say, I’m here to find myself. I’ll push every peg
you need, write about chicken feet
and how pepper tastes the same in every city. How many years
before I forget the taste. I used to gather
my fallen hairs in plastic bags, sweep the bathroom
floor for strands. My mother wanders, forgetting,
and I do not know where she sleeps tonight. She
tells me diaspora means lost and I
have nothing to lose. R thinks it’s brilliant how
she stopped writing about fish: Do you remember
the taste of fish? I only remember the bones.

 

Sharon Lin is a poet and essayist. Her work appears in The New York Review of BooksSine ThetaGhost City Press, and elsewhere and is anthologized in Best New Poets 2021 and Voices of the East Coast (Penmanship Books). She lives in New York City.

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