Rehearsed in a Bowery flat and
performed for none is the immigrant song,
where Mother carefully traces english letters
into a red spiral notebook. The curl of the q
drains the last vestiges of gel ink from her pen;
with a flick of her pale wrist, the plastic husk finds
its forever home in a black bin. In Chinese, we craft
shallow curves with subtle strokes, she tells me, and I nod.
There is a wound in the thin paper from the ballpoint tip.
(Someday, a man will tell me about the shallow curves of the
Chinese and I will also nod, but I will bear the wound
on my body instead; I stitch it up
with finely-shredded staff paper.)
In this Bowery flat, we memorize the lyrics
of the immigrant song: Keep those papers on you
and How do we fill out this form
and Mama, can you see my eyes?
The stage upon which we sing the immigrant song
is in constant flux: it is Chinatown’s Canal Street
where Mandarin and English battle for dominance
in a produce market and slip underneath dirty
sidewalks and fog up the air; it is the kindergarten
classroom where my teacher orders me to stop speaking
mother tongue; it is the city bus where someone spits at my father’s feet
and screams slurs he does not understand; it is the dining table, where
we swallow stale white bread and call it delicious, hao chi; it is the waning crescent moon
that wills this city to sleep and trains its cold gaze on us
through the dusty windows.
In this Bowery flat, we replay the
nativist song like a cassette tape
until it loses meaning: Go back to where you came from
and Speak english
and We do not want your kind here.
At school, someone asks me if I love living in America
and I say yes, the first word I learned. Inside,
I think of submissive rage, which claws at my chest
and leaves bleeding cuts; I think of loss, which draws breath from my body
and pulls my shoulders towards the ground; I think of bittersweet, crimson,
unrequited love and Lady Liberty’s disdainful gaze puncturing my childlike heart.
When we stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance,
the immigrant song swells to a thunderous roar within me
and the stars and stripes glimmer with the tears of newly-minted Americans.
By Amy Liu
Amy Liu is a high school student and an aspiring writer. She has been awarded National Gold and Silver medals for poetry in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and serves as the news, science, and arts and entertainment editor of the Kaleidoscope newspaper.