When I was 15, a boy told me I was pretty for an Asian.
The very same day I realized I exist only as your Mulan,
China doll, geisha girl—
a white boy’s moon-eyed fantasy. Sitting still,
hands folded, lips shut,
pretty for an Asian.
I say this with no slant, in America,
pretty for an Asian is a nice way to say white girl ugly,
in America, a girl with wings in her eyes
hears “Konichiwa” on the street corner
even though she was born in China.
I promise my roots are here but you want me
to spread my dragonfly wings
and grow out of air and be exotic
but never beautiful.
I have a lot of names,
Cho Chang and Harajuku girl and
math genius and lotus blossom.
But when the first question your friends ask
about your new boyfriend is
“Does he have yellow fever?”
your name doesn’t matter that much anyway.
I am revelation, the great flood, your paradise lost.
The rivers in my off-white chalice
cannot wash away my yellowness,
but when the rains come, my skin
will no longer be a symbol of submission.
The boy does not know that I am dragon lady,
not Sailor Moon. The porcelain in my skin
is really iron,
you’ll need two hands to bear my weight.
In America, a boy sees the horror in my eyes
when he tells me Asian girls are his favorite.
In America, individuality tastes like an old love,
comes in the form of a curl in my sea of straight hair,
rests in the underbelly of the Pacific.
In America, only the dragonfly knows what it means to be
colored in a pale sea of July warmth,
a flaxen-haired oasis.
Only the dragonfly knows what it means to be told
not to love itself,
only to fly away, unwanted.