Poem: “Re: Dad”

I.

In the hospital where I am born, Baba stands in the corner of the hallway,
whispering into an old telephone. His voice is grave,
disappointed as he tells my grandparents that their first grandchild was born ugly.
Red splotched face, ears like crushed cabbage leaves, a wail too big for the little monkey body.
心理準備,he says.
I just want you to be prepared,

Two hours later, the train from Gaoxiong arrives, and Nai Nai walks into the hospital room,
Picks up the bundle of my body and blanket, runs a finger along my face.
Nonsense, she laughs, A doll,
a doll and a first time baba who doesn’t know what babies look like.
I suppose it is some sort of cosmic joke
that everyone says I look like him now.

II.

Growing up, Mama used to tell me that Dad
had a Monsters in Electrical Engineering.
For years I imagined my baba was a warrior,
Twenty dragon skeletons strung up in his office
with wires and electrical tape. Instead of a resume, my father
Would carry bring newspaper clippings to job interviews,
Forehead still sweaty from his latest victory.

These are the stories I imagine as I grow up,
worthy explanations for a baba who came home
well after dinnertime and the dark. When I ran to hug him,
the smell of smoke on his clothes would linger,
And I would picture smoldering cannons, Baba’s face smeared with
gunpowder.

 

III.

Baba texts me in English. I respond in Chinese and say
你寫中文,我看能懂。
You can write Chinese, I understand.
Dad replies: Okay. How was your day?

IV.

Baba is a business man,
and Baba is also an immigrant.
This means he will drive an extra hour to
go to the AT&T in Chinatown, drive an extra two hours
to work at the only Taiwanese company in the area.

This means Baba will always come home late,
smelling of old cigars and wine.
This means Baba works late nights in smoky bars
and I learn the Chinese phrase for “entertaining clients”
before I can write my name.

V.

The names of the monsters are different now:
Alcohol, an aging mother, thirty years of a career he does not love.
It is not always easy to recognize an enemy you cannot see,
a dragon hidden beyond the basement,
no newspaper headlines for when you conquer it.
It is not always easy to think my baba brave.

When I am twelve, Baba will decide he does not want to play
yellow puppet to the American empire anymore,
moves us all back to a foreign country he calls home.

VI.

My Baba is garlic and soy sauce breath,
electric monsters,
a voice tumbling from the tongue like rosary beads.
My Baba is his Baba, is the years he spent away from fatherland
until it became something else,
is a baby discovering in every window pane
her own reflection.

 

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