“Self-Portrait as Sister.” A Poem by Ae Hee Lee

Self-Portrait as Sister

Sister, for you I’ve made a world within this poem’s mouth,
since each mouth was created for constellations
of desire. In this poem, our general biographies
haven’t changed: we were still born in one land,
raised in another, and live in cities perpetually
foreign to us. Because there’s nothing wrong with that.
But in here, our supple tongues weren’t raised measured by how close
our Englishes sounded to “the real thing.” Here our tongues are proud
maps that guide us back to ourselves. Here we aren’t sent whitening face
masks of cactus extract and lemon oil (only moisturizing ones) by aunts
concerned about our darkening skin tones, our unabashed flirting
with the sun. Here people’s kindness doesn’t deny
who we are.  Here we aren’t set apart
at customs, led like lambs to a gray room at the back,
where officers are numb with suspicion and the air is stagnant from travelers,
families, holding their breaths and onto the warm sweat of each
other’s hands as the seconds turn them colder.
In this poem, they are not there either,
and none of us have missed our connecting trains or worried
any friends. Here, sister, you don’t cry while clutching at the phone,
as if it were the unraveling, pastel-pink comfort
blanket we used to share as babies. Aloneness hasn’t driven us
into pining for a life where we try to fit into a shoe box
of a country, and our differences haven’t made us
smaller in the squinting gaze of others. Here I promise
no love will end in assimilation. It’ll just not
end. Here I don’t wish us belonging. I wish us
the benediction of bell flowers and bees
and beloveds who’ll hum with us sleepy songs.
I wish us here and beyond this poem: here, sister, here.


Asterism: Poems - Lee, Ae Hee

Asterism by Ae Hee Lee is available via Tupelo Press.

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