Birth Defects & Other Poems

by Tien Taylor

Birth Defects

my birth
causes mother
humiliation
from the people
at the temple
& supermarket.

brown eyes
& onyx hair
yet she finds me
not looking
Vietnamese
enough

mother
locks me
outside the house
so I can brown
like eggrolls
in a pan of oil.

Before
family photos
are taken,
she cuts the corners
of my eyes
and sews them up;
we are a family
of chinks.

Sunday’s
sins confessions
consists
of me falling
down the stairs
over & over

until
a greenish-blue
mark grows
on my skin,
shaped like
Vietnam
on a map.

when
inquiries are made,
mother
assures them
that the bruises

are simply
Mongolian spots;
something
everyone
in Vietnam
are born with.

they ask mother
why she cuts
my hair
& dresses me
like my brothers.

she spits at them,
at least she’s not
mutilating
my flower.

 

Tug of War

Mother turned off Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,
And threw an outdated algebra book at me.

I studied for hours, while brother was upstairs,
Masturbating to the new invention of dial-up.

When mother questioned the A- in English class
The word— what? catapulted from my mouth.

She swung a metal pole against my legs,
Reminding me to speak Vietnamese in her house.

Mother was fixing a hole in a pair of overalls,
Handed down by the white neighbor’s nephew,

When she saw my new hairstyle— yellow and black
Like the yolk of a hard-boiled egg. Fabric scissors

Snipped my hair like father’s face from family photos.
Why are you so American? asked mother,

The woman who never returned to the home
That’s covered with spider holes and bombs,

As she irons out any wrinkles or creases
From her certificate of citizenship.

 

Ready or Not, Here I Come

my hiding spot, 	wedged
between mother’s ribs,

discovered.

its laughing face emerged
between curtains of hands.

a game that bound us
like the cover and pages of a book.

my turn,
i pressed my face against lead paint,
counted to a hundred
as it packed a suitcase.

impatient,
i skipped numbers	like it did
with birthdays.

for ten years
i checked holes, corners & frames,
but i couldn’t find it—
a master at hiding, too.

forfeited,
i tried to replace it.

no matter how many boys,
the bound wasn’t the same.

finally,		it pitied my failure.

a phone call on my birthday
revealed its hiding spot—
a house across the country.

i pulled the door open
to find a new player in the game—
a girl identical to me at age ten.

she cheated,		showed me where
it was hiding by the liquor cabinet.

i cried—
you’re it, dad.
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