Twelve Chinese Confessions, 1963

Jade Cho

For Hong Sing Yee 曹雄茂


The story was clean.
He was the son of his uncle.
His uncle was a citizen.
He   knew   every   neighbor,   pebble,
rooster   in   the   village   that  wasn’t

To prove yourself, the lie must be clean. To the bone, as if teeth. I folded the paper into eighths and sixteenths,      thumbed       the    folds
until           I        became         smooth.
Unblemished     enough     to   be  the
lawful son.

As   a   school    boy    I    learned  the
weight   of   ink.    Within  my  name’s
twenty-one        strokes,       a      great
short-tailed       bird.       How    many
times  do   you  write  a  thing  before
you   become  it?   My   father  named
all    of    his    sons    hero;   I wanted
nothing    more   than    to    be worth
my   name,    its   flight   of   soot  and
salt across the page.

The Four Great Inventions of ancient China—paper, printing, gunpowder, and the compass—were named by Europeans after discovering that Europe had not, in fact, invented them. There are over two hundred and seventy Chinese inventions; the Four are deemed significant because of their meaning for the West. A paper name becomes significant because of its meaning to the state. No one cares for all your names until one of them bears a threat.

He    was    two    men   and    both  of
them         were         true.       Cooking
hamburgers       for      the     Oakland
Raiders         by          the     Coliseum,
driving       their       three       sons   to
Chinese       school      in      the     blue
Ford        sedan.       They      practiced
English         faithfully.      Handwrote
birthday          cards           to        their
grandchildren     in      jagged    loops,
each     envelope     hugging    a   crisp
$20 bill.

As     a     young     man,     my    brush
washed     paper     with     possibility.
Within      my      new      name’s     six
strokes,     an    open    mouth.   Small
mirror    of    the    sun.    How   many
times   do  you  write  a  thing  before
you  become  it?    As  my  father,  my
uncle  named  my  brother  and   Ifor
togetherness,    same    as    one.    Of
course     I     joined     them     in   the
golden   country;   I   wanted nothing
more than to fulfill my name.

You call me ingenious. You want to eliminate the proof. But I was born twice; the second by my hand and yours.

A Han Dynasty eunuch is credited for inventing paper using mulberry bark and rags. He was inspired by watching wasps weave their nests. Or, he stole the idea from someone of a lower class. Maybe the history of paper cannot be understood without myth or deceit. All that the archive leaves blank.

I     never    did     know    their    true
names.  I  have  not  seen  nor heard
of  any  of  them  for  over  ten  years.

The mulberry tree shares the same family as the banyan tree. Known as the strangler fig, the banyan must be cultivated from a seed or dropped onto tree tops by fruit-eating birds. Once lodged in a crevice of the host tree, the seed sends webs of roots towards the ground, engulfing its host until it perishes. The banyans can grow up to 100 feet tall and acres wide, centuries old.

There is a village where the banyan trees stand. They watched the men who planted them go. Still they wait for the men’s return.

Paper     is      a     Chinese  invention,
made    by    pulping    fibers    into   a
screen’s      sharp       border.     Paper
nation.    Paper   womb.   I   spell  my
name   3   different  ways   and   all of
them  are  true.   Smothering  in  ink,
I   make   myself   the   proof:   I have
always  been  here.   Always,   I  have

Of what country do you now claim to be a citizen?

In my true name I am citizen of sky
my mother’s hands
fist fights with my brother in the forgotten country’s dust
Citizen of the wok and the customer’s full belly
my three boys running with wooden bows and string

Your file knows my three names, but not how to speak them.
I enter a new nation each time they are called.