A friend asks have I encountered racism
due to the pandemic, after reading about attacks on women
& elderly citizens of Asian descent. I said no,
and after a pause, I don’t usually walk alone anymore.
Only with my white boyfriend, so I can borrow his skin
like a coat, wrap it tight round my neck.
I thought of the week after the election: walking home
as usual, alone in the dark, a truck’s high beams speeding
towards me; startled by a shout from the open window
go back where you came from, cunt. I’d almost forgotten
I will never belong here. My parents’ scoff, you will always have
a Chinese face. This impersonal rage familiar and foreign as home.
Like my last childhood house, the only place we lived
for more than a year. Everything white like a hospital sheet,
so empty and quiet I whispered when friends came over.
I’d wanted to paint my bedroom walls a color, any color,
but my parents said no, they’d just have to be repainted
when we move. They kept plastic on the sofa for protection;
I hated how the plastic stuck to bare legs, so I picked it off
like sunburned skin; within days, my jeans stained the cream
pleather a dirty blue—what happens when you try
to do things the American way. Worse, the bare sofa still stuck
to sweaty summer legs, chilled my green winter core.
How could I have forgotten not to be comfortable.
JENNY QI is the author of Focal Point (forthcoming 2021), winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Award. Her essays and poems have appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, Rattle, and elsewhere, and she has received fellowships from Tin House, Omnidawn, Kearny Street Workshop, and the San Francisco Writers Grotto. She grew up in Las Vegas and now resides in San Francisco, where she completed her PhD in Cancer Biology.
Link to Table of Contents.