Kuo Zhang

Three Poems

Becky told me she was startled every time
when she heard her Chinese first graders say
“nigger”, and they were saying it every day!
“Nonono. They’re saying ‘neige’, ‘that one’ in Chinese,
also can be used when pausing, like ‘well’ in English.
Becky laughed, felt relieved. But I didn’t tell her
my husband often says he’ll never allow
our sons to marry black women in the future.
“You are absolutely a racist!” I told him,
“Unlike you, I’ll wish them lots of happiness!”
“You’re not a racist? Then, why don’t we
move to the place where most black people live?
Why don’t we send our kids to the school
where most black kids attend?”
And one day, when I stopped my car, waited
for the red light to change, a black guy walked
towards me. I felt ashamed later, but at that time
I pressed the button, locked my car doors
a second time.


A Story Shared by My Taiwanese Friend
“If you don’t mind, could you please keep social distancing?”
At the checkout, I politely turned to another customer.
She took a few steps back, not offended by my words, I think.
But the cashier snapped, “You are so funny! You came from China!
You are the one who brought the virus here!”
“Excuse me, what did you say?”
“Nothing”, she said.
But when I asked again, she started yelling, inserted my credit card
more than 3 times. “I need to talk to your manager!” “He’s not here!”
I rushed to the door, ready to leave.
“She is Chinese and dares to ask people to stay away from her!”
She roared. “What did you just say?” This time she repeated it
louder and louder right to my face.
“Get out of the store”, she shouted, along with two other workers.
“Get out of the store!!” Some customers also joined.
“Calm down! Calm down, everyone!” I heard a young man’s voice
before I held back my tears and slammed the door behind.


Face Mask Stories
3 months ago, a man punched,
kicked an Asian woman
in the New York City subway,
called her “diseased”,
for wearing a mask.
Last week, a customer was asked
to leave a Costco store after refused
to wear a mask. He disputed,
“I woke up in a free country!!”
Yesterday, I said hi to the black guy
who’s sanitizing shopping carts in Walmart.
“Thank you”, he said, “thank you
for wearing the mask.” I smiled back,
forgetting that he can’t see.
I really wanted to share with him
my mom wore a face mask every day
when I was in elementary school
in Northeast China. She rode a high bicycle,
with me sat on the rear rack.
The heat exhaled from the mask
frosted her glasses. In a sudden,
we fell together on the rutted ice road,
“Aiyou!!!” (like ouch in English).
Mom took off her mask, checked
if I was injured. “I’m fine,” in the long
pink down coat, wool hat, scarf,
sheepskin mittens, red snow boots.
Mom put on her mask, again.
We lift up the bicycle, kept going
to and/or from school.
Nobody ever thanked her
for wearing a mask.


Kuo Zhang is a faculty member in Teacher Education at Western Colorado University and completes a PhD in TESOL & World Language Education at the University of Georgia. She has a bilingual book of poetry in Chinese and English, Broadleaves (Shenyang Press). Her poem, “One Child Policy” was awarded second place in the 2012 Society for Humanistic Anthropology Poetry Competition held by the American Anthropological Association. Her poems have appeared in The Roadrunner Review, Lily Poetry Review, Bone Bouquet, K’in, North Dakota Quarterly, Adanna Literary Journal, Raising Mothers, MUTHA Magazine, Journal of Language and Literacy Education, and Anthropology and Humanism.

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