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113th Weekly Poetry Contest honorable mention: China: Ancient Technology Exhibition

by Mary Soon Lee

The young interpreter
Says she recognizes me,
As we stand watching
A man make paper
From strained bamboo pulp;
His face tells a story
I cannot read.
I have never met
Either of them before,
But something pulls me
As the man pulls
Each sheet of paper
From the pressed pile
And hangs it to dry.
My father grew up in Malaysia,
Spoke Chinese as a boy,
A link in a chain
That stretched back
Through his father's father,
Who came from China.
But the chain has broken.
I speak only English,
Grew up in London,
Carry my heritage
In vestiges
Like my odd middle name,
Whose meaning
I am unsure of.
The interpreter smiles
At me as if she knows me,
Says she recognizes
My voice, the British accent,
Or what's left of it
After thirteen years 
Here in America.
She's a long way
From home, and I wish
I knew what she thinks
Of Cleveland,
Of the people who stop
To watch for a minute
Before walking away.
I wish I knew more
Of what my father thought, 
But instead
I buy a piece of paper
From the man, 
Dipping my head in thanks
As he rolls it up gently.
Two dollars to buy
A piece of history,
Reenacted for my convenience.
I wonder how long it will be 
Before I remember
To take the paper
Out of my car.

(First published in American Scholar)



113th Weekly Poetry Contest