Here are a couple poems from “Making Waves” and “Making More Waves” two anthologies of writings published by the Asian Women United of California. Asian Women United of California is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1976 to promote social, economic, and general welfare of Asian American women. These books are good examples of Asian American women finally starting to get their voice out to the public to be heard.
The first poem is by Brenda Paik Sunoo. She is a third-generation Korean American, a human rights advocate, lecturer, and journalist. The poem is commenting on being cut off from ancestral homes and family members in
We the Exiled
I can understand
to soften the visions of war
especially when warm tears
upon families’ bodies
soaked in red
in pools of running blood
I can understand
How relighting the memories
of promises broken
burn to ash
the million hearts
that once beat in tune
and that we, the exiled
were forced to leave
to make families our strangers
and strangers our friends
but when will we understand
it was and
that sets the stage aflame
where people kill each other
in spite of
their identical name . . .
The next poem is written by Brenda Kwon. When the book was published she was a doctoral candidate in English at UCLA, writing her dissertation on Korean American writers from
I inherit her solitude; there are moments
When I, cutting
green beans into slivers, find
I have been chewing on my tongue---
something I have seen her do
when alone. It is
the taste of loss and memory,
and I wonder which stories
she has yet to keep from me.
The picture I have is her face long before us; she
does not smile though
it’s her eyes that will tell you
how she felt that day
after she pulled back her hair
put on her best blouse
the matching scarf, her fingers
knotting the ends. But for now she would stop.
her tongue at rest
in her mouth as she
anticipated the flash. You see,
she knew she was not alone.
There are words locked in
and beneath her tongue,
words I may never hear
nor understand. As I chew
my own tongue I want
it to taste to me
of words she has never said
secrets she had kept too well.
It isn’t until I hear the sound
of my own breathing
that I understand
what she has given me.
The last poem is written by Priscilla Lee. In the anthology she describes herself as follows: “ an Aries-Firehorse of the type they used to drown in
Every year on the cusp between old and new,
my grandmother kneels in front of the fireplace
with her Tun Shu and bookmarks,
tosses five quarters onto cold brick.
She watches the order
in which they fall, scratches my name
with her brittle fingernail into the book’s margin
when she has matched
their sequence to a fortune.
She is monitoring my progress.
This year was a good year, next will be better,
she always tells me after studying the characters.
The warrior who has won the battle
stands at a dark crossroad,
and his horse is hungry.
The carp attempts to leap
the high wall, its scales
a blistering glare
above water. The fisherman
catches the prize pelican
with an oyster trapped in its long beak.
The kirin, half tiger, half dragon, enters
the forbidden city.
Year after year, she wants my fortunes to be set,
offers assurances to drag me toward the coming year, but
how can I be as certain as my grandmother
that my life is good? The warrior has won a battle,
but does he complete his journey
if he has no horse, no food? Is the carp’s leap
a feat of transcendence
or defiance? Which am I ---
the fisherman, the oyster, or the pelican?
And the kirin, the long-awaited prince,
to what political state is he born, and
what does it mean to be born a prince and a woman?
The fortunes are ambiguities, a balancing
of possibility and limitation,
but my grandmother reminds me
that doubt can lead me away from the bright road.
Not even the gods can predict
how we will perceive our own lives.