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.