Upon watching the PBS documentary on Asian Americans, my Mother texts us:
I now know why my father did not want to talk about WWII or the past. It was a
painful time for Asian Americans. He was a paper son.
* * *
What I know of goong-goong is mostly from photographs.
________He died when I was almost five,
________just before we moved into our new house
________in the suburbs that my Mother wished he could have seen:
________our big lawn, our white carpet, our fireplace
________that she lined his photographs along.
________& Our window sills, where birds came to rest—
where she believed they were him, watching over us.
I wondered if, through the windows, he could see himself—
________in all those photographs. I wondered
________if he remembered himself, or
________if maybe he was brand new. If maybe
________he’d gotten the new start he always wanted—free
________with flight from the past
he did not want to know any longer, as paper son.
* * *
The bird’s nest is served
& your instinct is the same as when you were a child
although you are so much older now
you want in the same way
for the perfectly fried,
shaped strings of taro.
This is the fake bird’s nest, though.
The real dish, being
the soup that has the actual swiftlet nest
made out of the swiflet’s saliva. You just recently learned this
on google, where you learn everything
about your own culture.
You don’t know if you’ve had the real one before: jinwō.
It’s possible. It’s likely in your 25 years of drinking soups
of all kinds, from each Grandma—
you want to ask them now, if you’ve had jinwō before
but the words left you long ago
by choice or by force, or
which is maybe, for you
the combination of those two?
You still can’t decide.
How will you find those words again?
& All of that that has left you
that which made you a real one
that which has left you a fake one
as some other Asians have told you.
You don’t remember who—
were they old friends? Were they
just the locals you met while traveling
through your homelands?
When by looks you were one of them
but by mouth, they knew.
You could not speak
you could not say,
I am the same like you—
I am a real one
even though you yourself knew too
it wasn’t true.
* * *
Stephanie Choi lives in Western Massachusetts and works in the sustainability field. She is a proud graduate of the University of Arizona, where she studied English & Education, and led one of the nation’s largest student-run sustainability organizations. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, the Breakwater Review, the Gordon Square Review, and elsewhere. She enjoys baking vegan treats and where her mind arrives during a long run.