perfect English

(what i wish i had said to the man i met while climbing at Malibu Creek)

i once thought
that speaking flawless English
would protect me

that if i could
enunciate perfectly,
read aloud quickly and smoothly,
i’d be able to escape
walking through this nation
as foreigner

i quickly realized
that my face precedes
my speech and no matter
what falls from my lips
i will always carry
the look of an Other,
and the impulse to
call out “Chink!” and
“ching chong” does not
wait for me to speak,
does not care whether
i have an accent

how dare you, middle-class, middle-aged, white man,
rant to me about Asian self-ghettoization;
what do you know of what it’s like
to find yourself feeling powerless and strange,
to be caught between wanting to belong
and constantly being pushed away,
to be pulled toward drowning
by the slant of your eyes
and the tint of your skin?

is it so hard to grasp
that humans gravitate toward those
who acknowledge that they are human?

i once thought that
speaking perfect English
would protect me
i never thought people like you
might take it as license
to rail against
people like me
to me.

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