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tones


I say

who you are

inside

is worthy.


I tell myself wo gao su zi ji 我告诉自己

it’s okay, mei guan xi 没关系

it’s fine.


Do you understand?


While you’re reading this,

没关系,

you won’t say these right.

You’ll say them like me.


Do you understand? ni dong bu dong 你懂不懂


They always look, curious

about the donation, you

didn’t receive and don’t know

why you gave it away.


I’m sorry. dui bu qi 对不起


Thin lips, knotted brow, small

smile. She’s only asking for the time,

now she wants the day, you didn’t know

love could smother; it buried that hole.


I don’t understand. wo bu dong 我不懂


Your accent is good!

You’re totally fluent!

Just listen along!


我不懂,我不懂,我不懂


You scavenge on the ground, crumbs

in the dark: scissors in biscuit tins, empty

red plastic bags, ground white

peppercorn, hoarding snippets and scraps

from girls on the street.


Stop talking. bie shuo hua 别说话


They want you to dig deep, unearthing black

vinegar like gold. They whisper, your roots;

the spoiled mice have grown fat on rice,

tossed in a bucket too deep to abandon.


Stop asking why my parents don’t speak. bie shuo hua 别说话


Don’t they know

别说话

what scrapes you raw, like leftover bones?

Didn’t they wonder

别说话

what reeks: not apple, but tree?


I say

我告诉自己

it’s not a loss

我不懂

if it’s already there,

对不起。


你懂不懂?



Si Qin discusses cultural separation as a transracially adopted Chinese-American adoptee. As a newborn poet, she addressed this poem to Chinese-speaking strangers, well-meaning friends, and her American family.


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