three poems

by Dorothy Chan

Year of the Pig A white woman on the Internet gives her two cents on the Chinese Zodiac and comes to the conclusion that if there’s a Year of the Horse, then there should be a Year of the Unicorn, and sure lady, this calendar that’s existed since the Han Dynasty, also known as the golden age of China, can totally be customized to suit your own white lady needs and desires, like when you ask for an extra pump of caramel in your seasonal latte or when you’re shopping in the junior’s department, and there’s a station for you to bedazzle and pin and patch your denim—and I hope you know that you’re getting on my nerves here, lady, treading on sacred territory, like between the ages of five and fourteen when my parents and I would visit Chinatown in Philadelphia or Flushing, so that my father could buy his zodiac books, our futures and fortunes and trials and tribulations all based on one of twelve animals, my mother a rabbit, my father a tiger, my brother and I both snakes—all determined by astrologers, and no, I’m not superstitious, but there’s just something about my story as a snake that gets me, the way my father warns me not to get too cocky or I’ll have a bad fortune, and isn’t it funny how snakes actually aren’t compatible with tigers, even in friendship, but I love how my Tiger Dad reads my fortune every year, and I’m reminded of how the family fortune teller once said that my father and I are symbols of each other, maybe even mirrors, and yes, my mother and I are closer in life, but in my dreams, whenever I’m on a mission, it’s always my father that I say goodbye to last, because he always says the right thing, and I think it’s a generational difference, the way he’s been through too many tough times to count, like his childhood years, as my mother tells me, when he was thrown from boarding school to boarding school across Asia, and on weekends, my father waited for his mother to visit, and she never showed, and in my dreams, it’s always my father I say goodbye to last, because we’re always connected, like that time in Hong Kong when one of my aunts pointed at me, telling my parents that it’d serve me well to be a little dumber, a little less foul-mouthed, so that the right man would marry me, and my father took my hand, stormed out, and we went down the street to McDonald’s, eating burgers in silence, until he told me the story of how as a young man, he won a gold pen in this exact McDonald’s, and I always wonder about my father as a young man, long before he met my mother. And now in Las Vegas, my father tells me about my year ahead, once again warning me not to get too cocky, and I look around the home: the gold-plate snake my grandfather gave me, and how in the original tale, the snake jumps in front of the horse, coming in sixth place, and yes, I’m a little cunning, a little seductive, and I look at the Year of the Pig calendar in red and gold, the lucky colors of my culture, and I remember the golden dragon and phoenix in Chinatown restaurants, or how when I’m having a tough year, my mom and dad tell me to wear a red bracelet—a little extra luck, a little courage.   Triple Sonnet for Yumminess He calls me yummy, but I just want to be left alone, like how if you’re in Tokyo craving some alone time with pancakes and pudding and cheese mousse or a latte with hippo art, they’ve got the café for your party of one— and that’s what I call good service when they place a stuffed animal to sit across from you, letting you dine in peace on chocolate fondue with marshmallow hearts—and honey, you’re never all alone, but you are left alone, which is probably the single-most precious gift girls everywhere could ever get, not “Hello, is this seat taken?” or “Do you come here often?” but the time to eat in peace, no entertainment, no date. And he calls me yummy, and sure, he’s sexy as hell, but sometimes I just need to be left alone, and sometimes, a table for one feels like the best damn idea in the world, like that time in Singapore I was craving crawfish spaghetti all alone in a family restaurant filled with carousel decorations, and don’t ever stop your childlike wonder, and what a sight to have all this pasta and seafood to devour without anyone looking, well, without anyone I’ll never see again in my life looking, without the need to act like a lady, and I remember five-year-old me talking back to my dad, who told me I had to “act like a lady,” but really, why even bother when we’re all hungry inside, and who cares if you want to devour all the time, and oh, the opening scene of You Can’t Have Everything when Alice Faye stares at spaghetti being cooked, standing out in the cold, outside the Italian restaurant, and she can’t take it anymore and goes inside and chows down on two whole plates of the special without even paying, making Don Ameche fall in love with her on the spot, because who wouldn’t, and really, what a woman, and look at her devour. And he calls me yummy, but I just want to be left alone, because one really is the best number, like finishing in first place or eating the last dumpling or reading “You’re my one and only” in a card, signed with a heart, and oh, I’ve got to admit he’s yummy, isn’t he.   Triple Sonnet for Categories of Porn What we have is a category of porn, Lover #4 says after phone sex, as if I don’t already know about the clichés of older white man x young Asian woman pairings, but it’s just grosser when it’s said aloud, in the same way your parents probably subconsciously know about all the bad girl things you do, like keeping secret stashes or jerking off to a long-distance lover at night, after pouring yourself two glasses of bourbon and eating some chips and applying lip gloss, like in the movies when the femme fatale orders two dirty martinis and her date assumes one’s for him, and she says, “You’d like one too?” And there’s no sense in saying aloud that we’re a category of porn, because I’m not a product to be sold and bought, like a toy you flock to LA for a little 11:50 PM fun fucking in your hotel with a dreamboat who should be in the movies, but that’s such a generic way to describe any yummy man with that twinkle in his eye and one blond curl that he just can’t get out of his face— and have you ever made love on the highest floor of a luxury hotel, curtains open, the pool and water show down below ready to burst, wondering if a helicopter or window cleaner is going to drop by at any minute, and bam, you’ve now got a free audience. Do you like the rush of getting caught, putting your lust on display for the world to see, and look, palm trees below and it’s hot here, hotter outside, hot outside, hotter here, and I get it, recording is ecstasy, like making love to someone you’re really into, and being able to watch exactly what you’re doing exactly as you’re doing it, and if only we could have screens everywhere, like in a home of Tomorrow Land with glass everywhere, a zen garden with koi pond, and mirrors, mirrors, glorious mirrors everywhere from the ceiling to my face, but no, that’s actually a little too much, and let’s stay in this moment on the highest floor of this hotel in Vegas, and no, don’t you dare call me a category of porn, but I am a freak, my face on yours—a gorgeous freak. — Dorothy Chan is the author of Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, March 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She is a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University, a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, The Cincinnati Review, Quarterly West, The Offing, and elsewhere. Chan is the former Editor of The Southeast Review and Poetry Editor of Hobart. Starting in Fall 2019, she will be an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Visit her website at Artwork by: Anderson Miranda