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Three Poems from The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi

‘What I / am—I’ve gone further than gambling, drug addiction, death— / I’ve killed the image of her daughter.’

By Yanyi

I don’t write about graduation because I had already said goodbye to so many people. Everyone else had plans and family to attend to, so we were alone. It was supposed to be a happy visit but my thing, my life, had ruined it. At the time, I owned a small collection of oxfords, undoubtedly  masculine.  Before she came, I hid them in a bag that I didn’t move to my new apartment because I knew she would find them there. For two days, I wore shoes with no arch support. On the third day, I wore my brown shoes to be comfortable. No one looks at anyone’s shoes. For the rest of the day, we were at the museum and all she could talk about was my shoes. At the foldable table in my new apartment, she asked me if I was gay, which I had told her ten years ago but she didn’t believe me. She asked me if I was gay, and I didn’t say anything, but I cried. She threw away my shoes and then we had dinner. When I did the dishes, I had to empty the rice onto my shoes and I never saw them again.

We didn’t have cable. We had a satellite dish that absorbed wavelengths.  Despite  being  labeled  aliens, this  is  the  closest  we would get to extraterrestrial. The planes rides count, too, thirteen hours at a time, which is also the time difference to China. All we did as aliens, we did because at some point, it is easier to be lonely than to continue working. Opportunity did not do work for us. To be a foreigner was to be a guest in all houses, to not know manners, to not have a past.  Every day was a day when we started over.  Every day we were so rootless, we had to make the same friends over and over again.

She tells me she feels  guilty for  giving  birth to me.  What I am—I’ve gone further than gambling, drug addiction, death—I’ve killed the image of her daughter. I tell her she must feel so much pain, that I understand what she’s going through. Then I hang up.