By Claire Yu & Jesse Chen
A pair of poems inspired by the title “bloodline” and the poets’ own heritages and culture. How do our family and our history connect and define us to ourselves and to others?
bloodline by Claire Yu my soul is a tapestry of guiding migration trails, when strings I can’t see or touch tie me to places I’ve never been people I’ve never met. When something in my mother’s eyes reveals a memory in me that isn’t mine Some longing for another land underneath my feet. I’m from my mother’s womb always a shared place My sister and I holding each other inside somehow knowing each other with our eyes closed Some things transcend what we see and blood truly runs deeper than memory, crimson with the ferocity of a mother’s determination passed down, traced through my veins like a road map flowing through both outstretched hands, holding on to the East and West with the firm belief I can fit the whole world in a single embrace. Korea comes to me in fragments - snippets of conversation an elderly woman in the subway with curly hair savory soups slipping through parted lips - all sewn into the silky folds of a hanbok; little shards of stained glass I see through colorful and momentarily corporeal, like infant memories of riding on my grandfather’s shoulders, nothing secure and feeling so sure that home could be anywhere under the stars that makes my heart feel this full, walking through the streets of my Seoul bloodline by Jesse Chen white people in america like to give each other 23andme kits for the holidays because most of their ancestors were so busy running around the world taking everyone else’s shit and spreading diseases and enslaving people and taking them from their homes, that they didn’t have any time to pass down their cultures, so now their descendants have to drop a hundred dollars just to fill a vial with spit and learn about which kinds of colonizers they came from. i think about this every time some chapstick-colored chad in a patagonia vest and boat shoes asks me where i’m from and refuses to accept “new jersey” as the answer. whenever they demand to know where i’m “really” from, as if anybody would choose to be from the same state as chris christie, as if someone with the last name Chen or Mathur or Kim couldn’t possibly be from the same place as Snooki or Bon Jovi. bitch. where are you from? how did your family get there? what did they do to the people who lived there first? does your 23andme tell you the names of the people your ancestors took from to give you the money that bought your lake house and your trust fund? do you know who your ancestors were? whether they were farmers, scholars, soldiers, leaders? do you know what village they came from? what they left it for? if they ever went back? can you cook any of their food, speak any of their language? each time another white person tries to tell me hello in an asian language that i don’t even speak, or compliments me on my english, or asks how long i’ve been in america, and a flood of molten lava anger roils through my veins, i just think about 23andme tests and percentages and not knowing where you’re from or who you are except “white,” and i forgive them, because how sad it must be to lack an identity, to not have a history, to be so detached from the people that came before you that you have to search for meaning in a pie chart and some drool.
We created this piece as a reflection on our heritage and families as Asian Americans. First, we spent several meetings brainstorming the titles that relate to the themes of family, culture and heritage. After deciding on “bloodline,” we then each wrote a poem based on that title and the corresponding themes, about our personal experiences as children of immigrants.
Claire Yu is a junior from Queens who attends high school in Manhattan, NY. She enjoys writing poetry and memoirs, dancing and playing the flute. She has won regional and national awards at the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
Jesse Chen is a poet and essayist living in New York City. She also works in marketing/PR, and volunteers as a mentor with the non-profit Girls Write Now. When she's not writing, she can be found reading in parks, spending too much time in museums, or eating various forms of bread. She graduated from the Johns Hopkins University with general and departmental honors and a B.A. in Writing Seminars. Chen also received a minor in Museums & Society. While in college, she wrote/edited for various publications including the JHU News-Letter, Thoroughfare Magazine, HerCampus, and Black and Blue Jay, and won the Academy of American Poets University & College Poetry Prize for her university.