Jane Wong

Jane Wong grew up in a Jersey restaurant. Her poems can be found in places such as Best American Poetry 2015, Best New Poets 2012, Pleiades, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Third Coast, The Volta, Tupelo Quarterly, and others. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Fine Arts Work Center, Squaw Valley, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She holds a MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches at the University of Washington Bothell and the Hugo House. She is the author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016).

 

 

from THE FRONTIER

 

The frontier arranges itself

around me like a moat.

The frontier drops fruit

upon my head.  I break open,

hot cantaloupe in winter.

I wobble around, spilling fruit

everywhere. All day, fruit flies

pay their respects: dear beloved

country, dear beloved superfunds

and farm turbines in corn-

ruin. Go sweetly into the light:

fluorescent and pinker than

any tongue I could pray to have.

And can’t I have what I’ve been

promised? This shore and this sea,

shining always, thereafter?

 

*

 

I asked for too much.

That was the problem.

In a sky lit with smoke,

my mother peels shrimp and

I carry the shells into the yard

and bury them. What we plant

will grow twofold, or so we’ve

been told. Frontier, shed thy

grace on thee! Grace descends

like locust. Onion grass sprouts

alongside my father’s beard–

all awry. The frontier mills about

in the yard without a rake or

shovel or hand to give out.

The frontier warns me:

an eye for an eye as far as

the eye can see. And what is there

to see? Fields upon fields of

frost, of rusty shipping containers,

of highway rest stops my grandmother

steals napkins from. Is it worth it?

I ask her. To live in this place where

you fill your pockets with stones?

My grandmother opens her eyes

in the middle of the night:

what you have not noticed

asks you to look again.

 

*

 

A new car arrives and my mother

beams with the pride of

a glowworm. She’s spun to

the nines: gold drips from her ears

like wax. Even the flies along

the windowsill turn to gold.

It’s hard to breathe in this

luxurious air. I walk around

the house with a mask.

There’s construction in the garage,

construction in the kitchen.

Every immigrant has that one

drawer full of plastic bags in

plastic bags. We open them

when we knock a wall down.

Tessellations of the frontier:

bags floating off in Great Northern

air. Go forth – my thank you’s,

my pocked plastic cheeks,

my lunch money in the clouds.

 

*

 

Tragedy gives back whether

you want such charity or not.

In this country, hurricanes have

the name of any decent receptionist.

Sandy, my mother says, hacking

at fallen branches with her cleaver.

Sandy, your refinery in our throats

and eyes. In Jersey, to exit the front

door, you better be a customer.

Even the moths leave through the alley,

wings slick with griddle grease.

In the alley, my brother and I jump

on mountains of cardboard and

packing peanuts. I swallowed

a packing peanut once and plastic

leaked from my eyes. Sandy,

wipe away your tears! My mother

braces her back against

the ribs of a hallway arch.

 

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