Poetry Suite by Nancy Lynée Woo

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Poetry, September 21st, 2015

"He came here as cargo..."

nancy woo mixed race poems enrico nagel collage

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 2.00.32 PM

What Are You: Grayscale


When speaking to each other, we enter a grove clear of mist and just, rest for a minute. We don’t have to choose which thing to be. Our moms are both from East L.A. His eyes are greener than mine and his parents richer, but they started on the same weedy streets. There was another, half Chinese like me (I remember them all on my ten fingers) who brought me back a jade bracelet from the islands, called himself a hustler, skin light like mine. Where are the students of color? a hand-painted mural on the Santa Cruz campus inquires. One foresty afternoon at the Wishing Tree, I hushingly met another. Dark skin, round face, same nose. Looking into a mirror, grayscale doing a 180. So many different coats. We recognize each other. Some strange seventh sense. He looked at me gently, black black skin, wide wide eyes, like me like me, and said, “What do you see?”


+ + +

Ya-Ya (Grandfather)


He came here as cargo
a child hot breath to feet
fish heads ripping off with teeth
an orphan to old Los Angeles—

I do not remember his skin
deep brown before tanning beds
the color of immigrant sweat
pickling in the sun.

I do not remember his teeth
yellowing in Chinatown,
or any Laundromats or fish cookeries
or wonton soups he served.
I remember no music
and attended no funeral.
By then, I was already wind.

As a young man in 1945, the roots
pulled him back across the Pacific, spine
reaching forward, sturdy as a clothesline.
To himself—he pinned a bride
and her large, proud family.
They swayed their way to America,
twisting in the wind like a question mark.

Then, we, my father, my mother,
my sister and me, were unhooked
and left to drift away.

Indefinitely, as if watching from a balcony—
I wait to know what happens next.

I wait to see if his face will appear
or if I will remember   anything.

I remember some things. Not
from my cortex but from the loose eye
floating in the dumb of the ocean
turning, bobbing like a cork.
I remember from a place
where death is just another swell.
I remember the blue, and learning
to hold my breath.

+ + +

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 2.01.17 PMWhat Are You: Exotic


She said I could be an exotic model. We lived on the same suburban street for 15 years, 40 feet away from each other. I wondered what makes one exotic. In Hawaii after the sun had laid its golden brown on me, I was welcomed as a could-be native, yet we watched the pig roast in the pit with the rest of the howlies. There was one half Japanese boy in my 4th grade class, I had such a crush on. I wondered whether he was just like me. In Hawaii they call us hapas, and there’s a code only we understand: that weird glowy look, pause,

digging to see past the blur. I used to think I must be ugly to warrant such attention. Either that or I didn’t exist at all. Just a tepid ghost wafting through people, prickling their hairs, at most. Born into existential crisis. I realized much later, after the complexes had burrowed in, they didn’t know what to make of me, and so made me a confusion. I wasn’t born into any tribe, so where do they draw the lines? I began to know myself as a slippery, half-awake thing, like a vapor.

+ + +


In Beijing, no cab driver
will dare take you
to the cemetery.
You must say Babo Shan
ditie zhan, or
take me to the subway
by Babao Shan.  Why
chase ghosts?

Chi-sing means crazy.
My grandmother talked to
spirits, ghosts, ancestors,
had visions
of advanced diplomas.
When my dad exited the stage
carrying his Ph.D., she had
already seen it
in a dream.

When he married
my mother,
Bak Gwei Noi
White Devil Lady,
she screamed
and disowned him,
never gave
her motherhood back.

Nancy Lynée Woo means
the daughter born to this
unlovely superstition.

Nancy in Hebrew
means grace or
the light that still shines in
the darkness. 

I translate this
every day.

+ + +

Header image courtesy of Enrico Nagel. To view a gallery of his collage, go here.

+ + +

nancy lynee woo poetry poemNancy Lynée Woo is a 2015 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, and founding editor of a socially conscious literary press called Lucid Moose Lit. She has been published with Artemis Journal, The Subterranean Quarterly, CHEAP POP and Cease, Cows, among others, and is currently working on a collection of poems about her mixed heritage. Often caught cavorting around Long Beach, CA, this poet can also be found, here.


Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.