West Windsor, NJ
West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North
When he came to, my father was in a hospital waiting
room; that is to say, it was bright, white, backed up, and
saturated with sighs; that is to say, he was in America.
I wonder if this is everything he’s ever wanted and
more; I suspect it is more, much more than he asked for,
too much for him to handle—maybe that explains
why he started going to church, why you began
writing of tigers and feng shui and the North Wind,
maybe you both found comfort in these falsehoods.
I could never figure out why your writing made me
squirm, tickled me underneath my skin until my arms
were crosshatched with scratch marks. Perhaps
it’s because your Chinese men are glassy, hard and
cold and easily shattered; perhaps it’s because the
white boy in my English class felt cultured after
reading about the drowning of a Chinese infant.
On Sundays, when my father dons a suit that is too
wide at the shoulders and drives away in his Ford
hybrid, I wonder if he is imitating you, consuming the
mythology of Jesus the way 1989 feasted on your tales of
Jing-Mei and Suyuan. The tongue salivates only for
food it has already imagined: my father’s for
the white bread and equally pale body of a saviour
unseen, America for drops of exotic golden milk
belonging to women an ocean away. Tell me,
Amy, is this what it takes to survive in this blinding
paradise? Is it everything you’ve ever wanted, or more?
“Amy” is full of lines that make you pause, close your eyes, and take a deep breath before continuing. Parts of this poem are so beautiful that they are almost painful to read, and every part knits together to form an equally poignant whole. While the language is playful, toying with repetition and rhyme, the voice bites. As the poem’s two central figures travel opposite paths of assimilation, neither escapes the speaker’s sharp details and powerful questioning. I know I will be thinking about the line “the tongue salivates only for/food it has already imagined” for a long time.
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