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Dear Mao,

For I know how a landscape can cradle a person home. If I could miscarry you all the way to the ocean. If I could, instead, pretend you were once a house made dirty by the fog. Inside an unfamiliar room, I inspect the dust and corners, behind the furniture, inside the tub. I look for ways in which to let the sunlight in and a place to hang papery birds. How to measure my body home, which is to say, how many names can you give to an immigrant’s geography? Delta Court, Tai Tam, Outer Sunset; finally, a dream to reach the edge of the sea, where house inhabits multifaceted directions and hangs like a jar catching wind and grit in its mouth.

Dear Mao,

And how relieved I was no longer to be embarrassed by my mother’s voice but to feel her broken sounds again as intimacy, as home. In this way childhood and adulthood came full circle, for it was in between the penance of adulthood and the poetry of a child that I stopped noticing whether the living room curtain was bringing in woolly light or a milder speckling. My siblings and I negotiated the front door with our comings and goings, but my mother never once complained about the infiltration. To be sure, she rarely spoke of her history or mine; instead between the light of holier days and birthday cakes with our names spelled out in fruit, I somewhere heard fragments like hand shadows that cannot be pinpointed; so it was that I absorbed your biggest sins.

Jennifer S. Cheng writes poetry and lyric essays about dislocation, what the body knows, and the cosmology of home. Letters to Mao is part of her book, HOUSE A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, forthcoming in October 2016. Other poems from the book appear in Tin House, Web Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, Mid-American Review, Tarpaulin Sky, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow and Fulbright scholar, she is currently writing a series on the Poetics and Politics of Refraction at Jacket2. []

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