故乡 in retrospection
by Claire He (United States)
Audio: “故乡 in retrospection,” read by Claire He
you’re in the backseat when māmā looks through the rearview mirror
and tells you: i can’t call this place home. the traffic lights reflect from the rain,
blooming into green glares—and in that evening blur, you ask her what it means.
清原, qīngyuán, she replies, is what i still say is home, when someone asks.
the memory of qīngyuán falls as if sand through her fingers; it is a photograph
fading in her mind’s eye, rose-tinted and wrinkling. māmā has breathed
the air of this country into her lungs for twenty-five years, and the smog of new york city
is both familiar and unfamiliar to her but there is a distinct incongruence in the heart
of here, where here cannot be home. sometimes, as she peels mandarins
she muses of what might have happened if she never left her homeland for a
country of glittering promises: now, she says—one hand plucking seeds from the carpel—
that her only regret would be that she never had you. you, the second child;
you, an existence in itself contradictory to the place she calls home.
yet isn’t it strange she can only faintly remember what qīngyuán looks like?
the memory has paled to dried rinds in the consequence of a lifetime’s worth
of them, and she overlays film of her origin with the film of cities across the rim of america
until the image bleeds—you yourself love to pretend you remember your own birthplace
in the ribcage of a city but can’t conjure up the image; (you visit the city again,
years later, and māmā points to the building across the river and says that’s where we lived.
you do not recognize the sight.) distantly, you imagine qīngyuán, too, has changed
in the years since her childhood: frozen in time only in reminiscence. the streams eroded,
sediment running thin under her fingers where the riverbed pared. her house,
a roost absent of reminiscence. listen, the sparrow deserts the nest without return and
this is the truth: her qīngyuán is a place that exists only in her mind, and half a decade
is a blink of an eye to half a century. ask yourself, isn’t it strange to have mourned a place
for longer than its existence? the memory of home as nothing but the name.
Claire He, age 17, is a Chinese-American writer. She has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and the National Poetry Quarterly. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, daydreaming about characters, and examining themes of attachment, nostalgia and luminosity.
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9/17/23, 8:43 AM
Powerful. Spreading the truth some don't think about, some don't have to worry about. A great and strong piece.
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
8/25/23, 10:35 PM
Excellent and amazing
8/17/23, 7:00 AM
Absolutely beautiful poem! The words were picked meaningfully and used it a descriptive way. Very relatable.
8/11/23, 4:59 AM
Beautiful, moving and thought provoking. Keep up the amazing work!
8/11/23, 4:48 AM
Absolutely beautiful work! Relatable for some and eye-opening for others.
6/19/23, 6:26 PM
It is really great, I'm impressed!
Eunice N Kitchener
6/11/23, 5:13 PM
Quite amazing and interesting story. It's also a challenge to others. Develop your skills through hard work.
6/8/23, 7:21 AM
Beautiful. A wonderful portrait of the identity crisis caused by colonialism.
5/26/23, 6:23 AM
Congratulations Claire - this is a powerful piece - this feeling of a yearning for a home that may not even exist anymore will be something that everyone who lives outside of their original homeland will resonate with. Well done.