My father paid my first tariff: a penny for each word
his mouth failed to form in English. What a venture
bedtime stories became. Late nights, Dad sweats
his retirement against the stock market. After hours,
a teen wipes her brow adjusting bright orange
price tags. At seven, a boy and his new toy
smeared a Made in China sticker on my forehead.
After all this time, I still can’t take a joke, the guck
stubborn on my skin. In China, surveillance lurks
about in silent shutter. Here, the white gaze steadies
on my lower back. There, babies told not to born.
Here, mothers made to birth. On the train, you tell me
about all the nascent atrocities in China as if
I’ve never met my first womb. Its knots not
the shape of my intestines’ tangle. Over here,
someone shushes a young child’s gurgle. Out there,
morning bells blare on someone’s first day
of Re-Education. Testing for what the body
won’t forget under force. Let’s talk about
assimilation. The negotiated speech between us.
I choose not to escalate. Instead, I whisper to the static
of wool reaching from my ribs to yours in half-
hearted agreement. It’s true, at some point, I packed
up that passport at the counter and exchanged it.
On some day, I sealed that language shut
and returned it. On the silent walk back
to my unfeeling apartment, I tally all
that love costs in an economy of fear.