Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken: two poems by Rachel Rostad

To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang

When you put me in your books millions of Asian girls across America rejoiced!
Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha, or Mulan!
I mean, what’s not to love about me? I’m everybody’s favorite character!
I totally get to fight tons of death eaters and have a great sense of humor
and am full of complex emotions.

Oh wait. That’s the version of Harry Potter where I’m not fucking worthless.

First of all, you put me in Ravenclaw.
Of course the only Asian at Hogwarts would be put in the nerdy house.
Too bad you didn’t have a house that specialized in computers and math and karate, huh?

I know, you thought you were being tolerant.
Between me, Dean, and the Indian twins, Hogwarts has like…five brown people?
It doesn’t matter we’re all minor characters. Nah, you’re not racist!
Just like how you’re not homophobic, because Dumbledore’s totally gay!
Of course it’s never said in the books, but man. Hasn’t society come so far?
Now gays don’t just have to be closeted in real life—
they can even be closeted fictionally!

Ms. Rowling. Let’s talk about my name. Cho. Chang.
Cho and Chang are both last names.
They are both Korean last names.
I am supposed to be Chinese.
Me being named “Cho Chang” is like a Frenchman being named “Garcia Sanchez.”

So thank you. Thank you for giving me no heritage.
Thank you for giving me a name as generic as a ninja costume.
As chopstick hair ornaments.
Ms. Rowling, I know you’re just the latest participant
in a long tradition of turning Asian women into a tragic fetish.
Madame Butterfly. Japanese woman falls in love with a white soldier,
is abandoned, kills herself.
Miss Saigon. Vietnamese woman falls in love with a white soldier,
is abandoned, kills herself.
Memoirs Of A Geisha. Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn.
So let me cry over boys more than I speak.
Let me fulfill your diversity quota.
Just one more brown girl mourning her white hero.

No wonder Harry Potter’s got yellow fever.
We giggle behind small hands and “no speak Engrish.”
What else could a man see in me?
What else could I be but what you made me?
Subordinate. Submissive. Subplot.

Go ahead. Tell me I’m overreacting.
Ignore the fact that your books have sold 400 million copies worldwide.
I am plastered across movie screens,
a bestselling caricature.

Last summer,
I met a boy who spoke like rain against windows.
He had his father’s blue eyes.
He’d press his wrist against mine and say he was too pale.
That my skin was so much more beautiful.
To him, I was Pacific sunset,
almond milk, a porcelain cup.
When he left me, I told myself I should have seen it coming.
I wasn’t sure I was sad but I cried anyway.
Girls who look like me are supposed to cry over boys who look like him.
I’d seen all the movies and read all the books.
We were just following the plot.


Names

My full name is Rachel Youngeun Rostad. This can be kind of confusing to people.
So my birth name was Youngeun. I used to think my birth mom gave it to me.
But she didn’t. It was given by the foster home, not much more than a bar-code.

Then my parents adopted me and renamed me Rachel,
and turned my birth name into my middle name. Rachel Youngeun Rostad.

Most names mean admirable traits like “strong,” “kind,” “beautiful.”
When you name your daughter, it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be.

Starting when I was seven, I spent every summer at a Korean culture camp.
There, my name was my Korean name, Youngeun.
Now, I am trained to answer to both “Rachel” and “Youngeun.”
Kind of like knowing how to use both forks and chopsticks.

I’ve never had a nickname.

According to google, there’s a Rachel Rostad who’s a fashion designer in LA.
And there’s another Rachael Rostad who apparently is the Goodhue County Dairy Princess. I’m not sure exactly what this means but there’s a picture of her
with a gold medal and a cow. Both of these other Rachel Rostads have blonde hair.

When you find, say, an injured bird in your backyard,
and you wanna to nurse it back to health and release it back into the wild,
they tell you not to name it. If you name something, it becomes a someone.
It makes it harder to give it up.

When my parents named me Rachel, it was a prayer for everything
they wanted me to be: American.

Sometimes I’m glad my first name is as apple pie and baseball as Rachel.
But also kinda not.

How your ancestors had a different name stepping off of Ellis Island
than when they stepped on.

The pros and cons of taking your husband’s last name as your own.

The pros and cons of accepting a diagnosis.

Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken.

You cannot read a speech and see the speaker.

You cannot read sheet music and hear the song.

When the very first word was written down,
something must have been lost.

When my parents renamed me “Rachel,”
something must have been lost.

Two years ago, I started the search for my birth mom.
She still hasn’t answered my letter.
The adoption agency tells me she lives in Seoul.
This is the closest to knowing her name I will get.

Let’s imagine I know her name.
If I found her Facebook profile, would this count as a reunion?

Let’s imagine she found my name in a newspaper.
Would she picture “Rachel Rostad” as a girl with blonde hair?

The name Youngeun is a barcode.
The name Rachel is a Made in America sticker slapped onto a Korean flag.

I have never had a nickname.

Either that, or I’ve only ever had nicknames.

Sometimes I wonder what my birth mom would have named me
if I hadn’t been a wild animal she’d eventually have to release.

She still hasn’t answered my letter.
I’m not waiting for a reply.
When you name your daughter,
it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be.
It makes sense, then, that she named me nothing.

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Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken: two poems by Rachel Rostad

Breath, like memory, is not loyal: two poems by Vuyelwa Maluleke

Tonight

I know I may not have you for long
so while you sleep, I roll myself next to you
feel the honey sticky of your cheek against mine
and get myself stuck.
Man!
if you weren’t sleeping
you’d like it as much as i do then tell me
it’s an ‘unsolicited violation of your personal space’
you won’t mean this
by now I can predict your clouds
when you tell me you’re dangerous
I have no reason to doubt this about you
you are a tired quilt of women,
a patchwork of petrol fires that burn when you’re awake in the absence of your father,
your hands remind me of home- the warm bed, my father’s distance.
you?
you remind me of no other lover
you don’t do it on purpose, I like this.
so I give you a shelf , in a wardrobe of a flat im renting out
the vacant assurance
that you’ll be here
tomorrow
i’m not stupid, i know we’re not for keeps
still, I wish I was the only place you hung your shirts
I wish you’d stencil my hand over the aches,
I will always be here to
to plant healing with chicken soup
and handsome adjectives
and it will cost me nothing.
But you’d tell me that
breath, like memory, is not loyal
that tomorrow I could build myself a temple
on someones elses collar bone
write better poetry to sail there and worship there
Five times a day, with love as it is
hot then cold- it’s in that 3am shiver
that our spines tell tales on us
of the lovers before
the teeth in their hands
the treasures they were given
and not given,
all the while carving stone shelters in the soft caves of backs
they would abandon when your laughter no longer brought out the stars for them
while you sleep
I catch the saxhorn growl in your chest
match its crescendo with mine
we make good music
This is where you belong.
you never say yes
never stay long enough to share the grocery bill with me
I bury myself with you anyway
you don’t notice how deep.
Your lips, are red sirens littered with commas
I want so badly to hear them speak yes.
Instead knowing you are someone else’s
I follow the fists your eyes make against your nightmares.
I think damn he must be a hero behind those brown doors.


If You Should Kill Me

The clouds have been threatening to break the rain loose
you try the same shaky trick on me.
no one hears you tie pillows around the screams
and hold my breath under yours,
you are quick anger
a bayamo wind that sneaks up on both of us
the clouds will break the rain loose tonight, I will pour
who will clean up the puddles next to my tea cup?
and if I run too slow,
who will mop me off the floor when you’re done
chasing your vengeful rumble through me
how good a job will they do putting me together this time?
and this time how many needles will they use
I can’t recall when your thunder got this vile
how it cooked itself so big, in the back of your mouth
and sat between the word we shared
waiting for its seconds
in a desserted room.
when no one could hear us both
fighting to be heard and forgiven
I don’t remember the day I started running
or how fast  needed to go,
where did I think I could go?
your eyes questioned in a smirk i knew could open fresh wounds
‘what did you do when you caught up to me?’
you say you’re sorry
that i don’t know how to be careful with you
to prove it, you grieve the purple deaths along my arms and ribs with me
but we know it will happen again.

and if you should kill me this time
what will you tell them happened
when they ask?
tell them/don’t tell them
don’t tell them it was you
tell them I was awkward
that I could never walk straight without
tripping on a carpet I knew was there
and hitting a wall we’d decorated with ourselves
pull your hair out in saddness.
even if you don’t mean it
do it anyway and make it believable.
wail, but there must be no tears
that would be too big a lie to tell
I don’t want anyone to remember us like this
we’re too ugly, I didn’t tell them that part

Breath, like memory, is not loyal: two poems by Vuyelwa Maluleke