Rag of a Woman

Zeppelin.jpg            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

crowing, howling

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.