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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 28, 2017.
About this Poem 

“‘Naturalization’ is part of a smaller series of poems that thinks through the cruel logic of cultural assimilation: putting pressure on immigrants to adopt the language and customs of the dominant culture while finding their attempts to do so flawed and inauthentic. The poem also touches upon the renewing sense of shame in being betrayed by one’s need.”
—Jenny Xie

Naturalization

His tongue shorn, father confuses
snacks for snakes, kitchen for chicken.
It is 1992. Weekends, we paw at cheap
silverware at yard sales. I am told by mother
to keep our telephone number close,
my beaded coin purse closer. I do this.
The years are slow to pass, heavy-footed.
Because the visits are frequent, we memorize
shame’s numbing stench. I nurse nosebleeds,
run up and down stairways, chew the wind.
Such were the times. All of us nearsighted.
Grandmother prays for fortune
to keep us around and on a short leash.
The new country is ill-fitting, lined
with cheap polyester, soiled at the sleeves.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Jenny Xie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Jenny Xie

Jenny Xie

Jenny Xie's debut poetry collection, Eye Level, was selected by Juan Felipe Herrera as the winner of the 2017 Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets.

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Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice fields
and no two brick houses in a row.

I mean, no three—
See, counting’s hard in half-sleep, and the rain pulls a sheet

over the sugar palms and their untroubled leaves.
Hours ago, I crossed a motorbike with a hog strapped to

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Never mind the distances traveled, the companion
she made of herself. The threadbare twenties not
to be underestimated. A wild depression that ripped
from January into April. And still she sprouts an appetite.
Insisting on edges and cores, when there were none.
Relationships annealed

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The lightest realizations arrive in restraint—
so the old masters tell us.

Not unlike the tug at the end of a line.
 

We have language for what is within reach
but not the mutable form behind it.

Or else, why write.