on your name

Cloris Shi

there goes a saying: 

a name must flow like ivory,

crisp like jade, full like a mouth of steam

before it cascades like a tumbling ball of fire,

but

baba and i gave you an american name

and the syllables bounce on my miso-coated tongue

shape-shifts in rhythm,

stone-skipping across tea-infused teeth

i drag out your last letter like silk threads of lotus roots,

your name ends too soon.


they’ll pronounce your last name wrong

lips puckered, too much air between their teeth

they’ll say 

nameless face she, blind complying she

you’ll never

tell them to say “shi”

tongue curled around back palate,

you’ll never 

tell them to call you rock

of security and stability

womb of Monkey King

tell them: travel forests of limestone shi ling 

catch the wave of your Antelope sandstone,

sightseeing — they’ll see you

eyes closed — they’ll hear you


listen stone —

don’t break their bones, ‘cause

dragons —

breathe fire through sequoia body,

burn wildflower poppies

exhale jasmine breeze

in your roar,

i’ll listen for ashes of paper money we lay on your grandpa’s grave

every qingming

and remember:

keep pacific salt, atlantic wind between your cheeks

(you’ll need to blow out the fire too)


i saw our city’s name on the newspaper

a man spat at an asian woman on her way

to the market last morning

before a group of mothers screamed for their kids to

get away from her

before a teacher told her daughter to set her goals

as low as her mother’s paycheck.


by preschool,

chalk fingers will learn to draw out the corners

of eyelids quicker

by first grade,

they’ll stick “made in china” labels 

on your shoulders

by middle school,

you’ll forget the symphony you hold

between your two ears

by high school,

you’ll kowtow your golden head

to your homeland’s 

landmines.