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American Tourist

My father in the living room watches alaska: the last frontier.
He tells me, my grandmother’s sheep were never trimmed

around the eyes, they could be sat on (they listened to everything.)
Each episode, a barnyard animal is eaten, made much of.

We drove to yellowstone once, speaking more of homeland
than the plains moving past us or the things

we came to see (like freedom and history and greatness.)
By the roadside boy scouts stared at us, wading through meadows

for old antlers. I read little house on the prairie to my mother
and she approves, these women who are like her (full of quilts and survival,)

she would tell me so much about hunger I never believed
it was something I’d felt. My father likes silence and the past.

He votes for losing candidates (he is so unwilling to love charismatic men.)
He believes in the things we are given, like decency.

We cross the hoover dam and he is proud of it all. Not history,
but being here. Not the things that went wrong

but that they are built. The amnesia you need for new starts,
the pasture you find on stolen land.

We sit on a cruise boat to alaska and face a glacier near juneau.
The towns have wood sidewalks and I fall in love with men holding axes,

the lands they ravaged, the hair on their arms.
I take a photograph. I am so close and so far.

My father tells me about leaving the farm, how real it was,
like dirt and nostalgia. This is how you invent a home,

burying myth after myth at the edges, a line
of my people filing one by one to stare

at a beautiful nation.

Jessica Yuan is a second generation Chinese-American graduate student studying architecture at Harvard. She has work published in Ninth Letter, Blueshift Journal, and various student publications.

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