I get very territorial about my identity.
Ruth Negga, Vogue 2016
Bred on land where everything grows but change,
I unfold the tattered geography of myself—
the plains of me staked in pepper planting, drive-ins
with salted pretzels and smuggled vodka, cheap mascara,
flinging quotes from Downton Abbey and Dustin from Stranger Things
while the marking flag of my borderland
snaps in my unaccompanied flight
from my friends’ monthly movie night: hummus
and plantain chips and The Bridge on the River Kwai.
I slam closed the crowd of laughter
at Alec Guinness’ white savior deliverance of a hara-kiri-bound narcissist
just as foreign to me as to them. Suddenly Japan
needs an ambassador to parrot the few facts
rooted in my memory of its culture, history, politics. The semblance
of patriotism. That piece of me shrinks
when my husband’s forty-year-old piano student from Tokyo
shakes her head at my brown-haired, Cheetos-eating ignorance.
Your wife can’t speak Japanese? I confess
the only Japanese thing about me these days
is my father’s sukiyaki recipe.
Each New Years, we spoon sugar into a frothing teriyaki broth
over the hunched shoulders of potatoes
and onion-thin beef cuts we special-order from the local Kroger’s.
Mom and I wash it all down with sparkling Welch’s.
My father still cannot find a decent can of oysters
like he had back home. I used to tease him
for his briny mud-colored mixtures he boiled on the stove
the smell of cooked barnacles that curdled
in my American nostrils. The slow-footed gardener of time
cannot reap an unrooted person, and so I am planted
on the tilled welt of intersection—
geographies of dis-belonging to give my identity the illusion of place.