BY KARA KAI WANG
Mother says history is all about
ownership. My brother laughs, says
literally. I am visiting Mother’s hometown
for the first time this winter.
In my suitcase, empty tote bags filled
with the hope of relics, and lipstick
in three shades of red. I want to be beautiful
when we arrive at our family’s grave.
Some say this land is love
and days I believe them Mother
is beyond the glass, the tall stalks of grass
guardians protecting her name.
Other days the wild green refuses Mother
in their home—she hovers by the doorway,
uncertain. Why do I remain unpossessive?
A long time ago her hair was long,
winding dark knots over the windows,
locking the front door. We lived inside
and alone. Mornings I helped wash her hair
in the kitchen sink. She called me her little
sweet bean. I grew this way for years,
learned to spell citizen in the dark.
THE HOUR WHEN EXILES RETURN
BY KARA KAI WANG
Today I learn my father grew up without a mother.
For 16 years he was told his mother was dead
when she wasn’t. Secrets don’t mean
the same thing in China Mother says.
She uses the same logic to explain why
the door to my childhood closet is left ajar,
why my brother’s unopened mail
is an omen of crows.
Privacy is an American concern.
Concern, construction. America, American.
As a child I slept inland, Mother the warm shore
I never thought to venture past.
In China there’s a river that connects Beijing
to the Bohai sea. Hai River, Hai He 海河
or when literally translated, Ocean River.
I’m good at taking things literally.
I inherited that from my parents.
At my mother’s first job, her boss told her
to have some fun over the weekend.
Friday night at the grocery store,
my mother asked a clerk
if he knew where she could find
“fun.” Confused, he lead her to a back aisle,
pointed at a bag of balloons.
Helium is 6 cents a pop up front.
He left her with the plastic bag, having fun.
Sometimes I’m tired of coaxing ghosts
from the walls of my childhood home.
How did Father feel when he found out his mother
was still alive? White paint. Faded frames.
Did he ever get to see her? Once. When he was 28,
he visited her in Taiwan. Her hands clung like silver bracelets
around his wrists, convinced he might stay
if he felt her on his skin.
When he died, Mother opened every window
of the house. We slept beneath them, like mice
with faith in kitchen scraps.
Father is that you? A floating wisp
of cat hair. Tonight I line orange rinds
along the windowsill, arrange them
into a narrative. Truth is a house
and commitment to the story—