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Tending the Speculative: Poems from the Asian American Adoptee Diaspora

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, inquiring into a poetics emerging from the adopted diasporic condition, guest-curates a portfolio of poems for The Line Break.

By The Line Break


a modern ghost family

Act I.

In the film, a widower holds an audition
for a new wife. As each woman
steps into the closet, selecting a dress
for the rehearsal wedding, he sees
the right one, a young actress in simple
white cotton. There is no need to even
ask her name, or origin: she fits
inside each of his dreams of her
as a slight ballerina, a rising star
who fills his mouth with snow
on their wedding night, as he tells her
after she removes her simple
white cotton, “you are the only one
I will ever truly love.
Repeat after me: you are the only one
I will ever truly love.”


“It’s a post-war story, set in the backdrop of a city
rebuilding itself as a cosmotropolis.” The director explains,
“ Some of the war victims have undergone complete
facial transformations, surgical miracles,
in order to forget their former lives,
reinvent themselves. It’s an era of post-melancholia,
post-memory,” he pauses and lights a cigarette,
“there’s no longer any sense of the authentic,
or the individual. Everything is staged.”


“I wish I knew you,” the younger, second wife
touches the first wife’s face in the photograph.
“I’ve gotten so used to inheriting your odds-and-ends.”
Everyday, from the closet she slips on blue,
scuffed sandals and slip-dresses that fit
loosely around the waist. “If you were me, you
would laugh,” she says, laughing to hear
herself in the empty house, day after day.
She can smell the odd mixture
of jasmine perfume and cigarettes
seeped into the sleeves of the robe as she cleans
dishes, pantomiming the ghost-wife
as she fits her photograph inside a new silver frame.
“One day, I’ll be like you,” she whispers
to her, “immortal.”


The director writes another scene:
in flashback, with surreal, gray tones
like a dream sequence, the leading man
embraces his first wife in a boat with huge sails.
They look perfect, a movie-couple
beneath stars and full moon.
“I’ll never feel as lonely, again,” she says to him,
“as long as you stay here.” But the storm
above is gathering, a shock of black clouds
and relentless wind, as they escape inside
the cabin. She goes to the window, opening
it to a crack, to feel the salty wind
against her face, to feel
the beginnings of danger.

Act II.

The next day, the couple visits the studio
for another special audition. This time, second wife
is dressed in a yellow kimono, her hair upswept
in a messy bun. She enters the stage of the kitchen,
distraught, looking for something, her lines unclear,
clearly mad. From the front row, a small girl with a shaved
head gasps, pointing at her, “that’s her!” She runs
onstage, pulling the kimono off her shoulders,
exclaiming, “it’s her! I want her to be my
mother!” The director is laughing,
uncomfortably relieved now,
watching his distressed wife and this new,
grateful daughter embrace onstage.


According to the script: when the first wife
returns, not from the land of the dead, but
from the fully living, everyone is in shock.
It was a restful trip, she says, standing
in the living room that is no longer her color,
but painted over in blues.


white dust seeking water: mother’s essence on black lacquer, left, and white dust seeking water: mother’s essence on black lacquer, detail. Chong Rae Robinson and tammy ko Robinson from the Indelible Imprint Series, 2012.
white dust seeking water: mother’s essence on black lacquer, left, and white dust seeking water: mother’s essence on black lacquer, detail, right. Chong Rae Robinson and tammy ko Robinson from the Indelible Imprint Series, 2012.


Nicky Sa-eun Schildkraut is a writer of poetry and prose, and teacher of college composition and creative writing who calls Los Angeles home. As a Korean adoptee (KAD), her creative and scholarly work reflects an ongoing interest to explore the emotional and historical aspects of the Korean diaspora as well as transnational adoption. A perpetual student into her mid-thirties, she holds an M.F.A. degree in poetry (2002) and a Ph.D. degree in Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Southern California (2012). She is currently completing a second book, lyrical and narrative poems inspired by transnational Asian cinema, and a non-fiction book about autopoetics and adoption narratives. Her debut collection of poetry is Magnetic Refrain (Kaya Press 2013).