Why We Are This Way

Because my mother could not remember
the churn of revolution around her,
because she could never, even after six trips

back to China, find her father's ghost, she
brought me there to help her look.

Because she could not bring a child
from herself, she brought one across the ocean
and we are both immigrants now.

Because she needed a child without memory or
blood or that kind of hunger, because she could not,
ever, forget hunger, she bought too much milk

only to realize that a baby needs formula,
only to try to save the milk by freezing it,

only to have it thaw and separate like overcooked
meat from its bone.

Because I never felt the sea beneath me, because
I was not carried across its back but
hurled in jet stream, because I was not running,

I was arriving, she didn't know what to say
when we first met.

Because in every dream she is a forest of doors
batting against a forest of hinges, and in
every dream I am every wave shouting, endlessly,
that I too, have an old taste of salt, my eyes ablaze
and my tongue rotten with it. Because she came by boat

with her own mother, now immigration is the only thing
she knows of mothers and daughters.

Because, in China for the eighth time this summer,
she takes the flashy bus tours and stays in the most
Western hotels, because in a hat and name tag she can

return and return and never wander or be lonely where
she she was born, where she should not have to

quarry the ruins of her mother tongue just to speak
to strangers. Because now my belly is soft and rippled

and I have a girl of my own, because my hips
are crooked with her weight, I have done yet

another thing she could never. Because I speak
and she speaks and neither knows how to listen in
the other language, how to silence our own, because,

without words, what would we then have to know?

Melody S. Gee is the author of Each Crumbing House (2010), winner of the Perugia Press Book Prize. Her essays and poetry recently appear in Connotation Press, Fox Chase Review,, and Copper Nickel. She was a 2008 Kundiman Asian American Poetry Retreat fellow, and currently teaches writing at St. Louis Community College. (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761