Aging and Losing and Learning What? 后悔? (Regret?)
by Jennifer Chiou
set fire to the gum wrappers folded into hearts.
Shàng huǒ, líkāi, zhǎng dà!
Translation: Burst into flames (get angry, become feverish), go away, grow up!
to the trudging along and stomachache and waiting to fail again ––
Translation: Or forget
wanting something you can’t live with yourself and you know that
Nǐ gàosù wǒ nǐ zài děng shénme? Shénme huì lái? Nǐ huì huílái ma?
Translation: Tell me what you are waiting for? What’s going to come? Are you coming back? (当然！）
Translation: Of course!
and nothing is going to change but you change anyway and it doesn’t work 变成什么？
Biàn chéng shénme?
Translation: What have [you] become?
and so set fire to the neurons, to the heartbeat, to the synapse,
to the bloodline ––
to the scales you tipped too far (just to see)
NO! Huílái! Lái huí jiā!
Translation: NO! Come back! Come back home!
just to see nothing happen even as everything slid off the face of the earth –– 太远，太大，不能！
Tài yuǎn, tài dà, bùnéng!
Translation: Too far, too big, cannot!
set fire to the paved roads (from sweat from honey from blood)
Zěnme gǎo de?
Translation: What happened [what’s your problem]?
Shéi shì tài yuǎn?
Translation: Who is too far?
and the pocketknife is better but x-acto is so pretty.
Zhīdào? Zhī bù zhīdào? Dàole méiyǒu?
Translation: Know? Do you know or not? Are you there yet?
set fire to the erasers you carved in the third grade –– 小鸡，土豆，
potato chickens, trash cans, running away,
i wonder what else you can cut off ––
Translation: Forgot. Culture?
set fire to the fluorescence and linoleum and pitter patter
doctors and waiting for your mother to die ––
she didn’t –– that means it’s your turn ––
Nǐ ài wǒ ma?
Translation: Do you love me?
(just) (just) (just) only, this is a problem.
Wǒ ài wǒ mā?
Translation: I love my mom?
set fire to the problem and bury yourself in the ashes
i do not want to step forward –– measure
measures have to be taken (to prevent this) –– remember
what it felt like to be weightless, to be floating,
Zhǎng dà? Zhǎng xiǎo?
Translation: Grow big (up)? Grow small?
to be bleeding so much that everything flows out ––
Translation: Flow out!
Liú zài zhè’er!
Translation: Stay here!
Translation: Did you find it?
do it again.
Translation: Nothing left.
I am a junior who enjoys art, computer science and bullet journaling.
What is your main source of inspiration?
My friends are my main source of inspiration. In fact, one of my good friends gave me a gum wrapper she folded into a heart, which is what inspired the first line of this poem. Another one inspired me to incorporate Chinese into my poem. I love nostalgia and childhood memories, so doing fun things with my friends or having long conversations with them is usually what excites me to write.
What is your ideal writing environment?
My ideal writing environment is somewhere silent and isolated, where I have my Macbook and an open Pages document. To me, there’s nothing more comforting than writing in the 2013 Pages interface in 11pt Helvetica font between 4-6 p.m. However, a fun writing meeting with friends or classmates is always a great catalyst for inspiration as well. (Join Dead Poet’s Society!)
What message do you hope to convey to the reader through your piece?
This poem aims to explore the cultural conflicts many children of immigrants face. It follows a narrator who has difficulty dismantling the internalized racism they grew up with, as they grapple with both the desire to separate themselves from their culture and the shame from having lost touch with it. It especially focuses on the narrator’s relationship with his mother and the various miscommunications that tend to ensue between people who grew up in starkly different societies. The Chinese in the poem is, at times, strange (for example, 长小 is not a real phrase), and the awkwardness is intended to show the narrator fumbling to express their conflicting emotions.