The president says China virus, China plague, says kung flu,
says China put the curse on us, and my husband worries about
my plan to leave our 14-year-old daughter unattended for half an hour
as she roller skates on the playground parking lot, her helmet only
partially covering her black hair, nothing disguising her skin.
I invoke protection, then walk toward the river as oaks and maples
shed their leaves, pen and index cards stuffed in my back pocket.
Maybe I’ll be able to write today, maybe a few words that can
stand in for beauty or consolation, repurposing these white rectangles
already faintly marked in pencil, each a study aid for an individual
Chinese character etched in my daughter’s tiny, careful script, each
a measure of the work she’s done to learn the language of her first country.
The president doesn’t know her, doesn’t target her specifically.
His hateful words fly and fall indiscriminately. But those who feed on them
beat a high school boy in California, throw acid at a woman in New York,
stab a man and his two children in Texas. They shout chink and Chinese bitch
and run them over and you are the virus and go back where you came from.
Summer of 1982, it was Vincent Chin. Two Detroit auto workers blamed him
for Japanese imports changing the industry—he had an Asian face, after all.
It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work.
Eight days before his wedding, they beat him to death with a baseball bat.
I walk away from my daughter so she can feel like a normal kid, in normal times.
Whatever normal means in a country that gave us the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Whatever normal feels like when you live here and you’re not white.
I stop for a moment to gaze at the river. I don’t know if my daughter
will be safe, don’t know if someone among us might come unmoored, and
drift toward her, armed with weapons or words intended to erase her.