SONNET, WITH REDSKINS
to Sherman Alexie
1. Sherman Alexie, I read that the Washington Redskins are finally going to change their name. This doesn’t affect me much because I live in Singapore. 2. All of the Indians I know are from India. 3. Still, I often think about the way we talk about skin because I’m half-Chinese, my wife is from New Hampshire, and our son was born in Ethiopia. 4. He is seven. As we watch the World Cup, he keeps saying he wants to play for Africa. Each time, I say: “Africa’s not a country.” 5. When I was 22 I lived in Africa, in a country called Mauritania. Some Mauritanians still kept slaves. It was an open secret. It was hot there, and the air was full of sand. People wore long robes and many women only showed their eyes and fingertips in public. I once locked eyes with a woman across the market and somehow knew she was smiling at me. I knew it. I ached to see her skin. I ached. 6. Six months later, I found myself at the edge of the rain forest just south of the Equator. I lived in a tiny bungalow in Gabon and drank beer on the porch. It was hot there too. We danced the zouk at night. 7. I fell in love with a Bateke girl. Bateke was her tribe. I sent a picture home, and one of my uncles commented that she looked like Tracy Chapman “with that pickaninny hair.” 8. In Gabon, I had no books, but I did have an old issue of National Geographic. One article began with a photograph of a Japanese man in blue jeans standing beside his baby’s crib. The Tokyo skyline filled the window behind him. My girlfriend picked up the magazine and asked, “Is this you?” 9. Sherman Alexie, you once said it made you sad when you went to England and no one recognized you for an Indian anymore. You felt you were the only Spokane Indian for 5,000 miles. 10. And yet, how tiresome it is to constantly find ourselves sorted by color, like Easter eggs or paint chips. My grandparents emigrated from Guangzhou, but my mother was born in Dallas. My father was a red-headed Hoosier. What tribe am I? 11. I was hurt when my girlfriend only saw my skin, my straight hair, my eyes. We’d been together for months. 12. Her skin was a beautiful brown, but I wasn’t interested in its color; I was interested in how it would feel against my chest. I worked hard to see her naked, but it didn’t feel like work because we made each other laugh, and it was the first time I’d ever sung to a girl. I’d never touched a Caesarian scar before, but I had scars of my own. 13. Everything seemed so simple for a while, and then it wasn’t. After I said good-bye, I wept like a child on the crowded train. 14. So, anyway, why can’t it be the Washington Americans? Sherman Alexie, you’re a wise man; tell me the answer. There are only three people in my tribe, and we look nothing like one another.
—from Rattle #59, Spring 2018
Tribute to Immigrant Poets
Chris Huntington: “Two of my grandparents emigrated to Texas from Guangzhou. The other two were from Indiana. I grew up twenty miles from John Mellencamp’s house and hearing ‘Jack and Diane’ and ‘Pink Houses’ on the radio made me sad because they represented everything I thought I hated about my high school and hometown. Since then, I’ve come to love those songs. I live in Singapore now. I don’t think John Mellencamp is a particularly gifted thinker, but I wish he were our president. When I go back to my hometown these days, I feel like an immigrant even though I speak English better than my grandfather did.” (web)