To Be American

They swallowed tears

before I came

to Angel Island,


their America stained

by the leaking blood

of those who stilled


their writhing flesh

with a hanging noose

in our bathroom,


unable to return to China

nor fight for this

different America.


Chinamen scratched tibishi poems

into walls as if to assure

the new arrivals that


other masculine hearts

knew their struggle—

community seemed to be


all that was left to us

by the hollow guard uniforms

(all glares and angry English).


Chinawomen tangled

themselves up in the lies

of their fathers, the shackles


of arranged marriages and brothels

clamping onto our small wrists

once the ferry docked in America


and bound us to the restraints

on immigrant girls of Chinatown—

trapdoors, curtains, being sold to men.


But the dream of America

tasted rich and flavorful

in my mouth—


fresh excitement in the

stinging salty breeze

mixed with the whispers


next to me on the ferry,

the rising and falling notes

of Chinese layering over


the steady beats of English

shouted from the docks

carrying over the water.


Dreaming tumbles fast

into a trodden footpath

of deflated hearts lacking


an American welcome

to their culture, suddenly

amidst a nation unwilling


to extend a kind hand

as the newcomers venture

into a hard, self-made life.


(oh! they should see

the intrinsic humanity

I hold in my very being


as of value and worth

instead of foreign goods

to be handled crudely.)


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