Creation Story

                        --for my father

All those years
                he worked
to build a family out of America,
to build me out of
this mish-mash of tongues,
it never occurred to me
that another family lay on the other side
of the Pacific,
                where my father was born.

                My father
is not a god,
forming himself out of his own still waters,
essence preceding his existence,
ex nihilo, creation
swallowing its own tale
of self-discovery.

He had a mother.
He had a father.
He did not just suddenly spring forth
from a rice field in Guangdong Province,
sloppy rivers of dirt swimming around
concrete villages
where dogs and chickens and children
played together, watching
dubbed-over foreign cartoons.
He was not born
off a plane touching down in LAX,
dropping him off at some shitty
apartment by UCLA
to pour
a foundation for my mother,
me, and my brother.
This father is not a god.

*     *     *

His story begins with mine.
He left his seed
with my mother in Taiwan, while
he went off to California,
    one hundred and thirty years
too late for the Gold Rush.

Coming back,
he would find a daughter
who would try for the next two decades
    to be his first-born son.
An Athena springing forth from Zeus.
                      And yet,
his prehistory recedes
into that chaos of the other world,
like nothing out of nothing.
Bu yao wen.  Just don't ask.

I cannot ask,
even if I had known
how to translate the questions into Mandarin.
My own tongue,
                  sliced off,
                  thrown into the air
on a trans-Pacific flight to Connecticut;
another one sewn in,
        brand new, Made in America,
        bought on a layaway plan--

to be paid in full by the time
I get my own first American-born.
I ride the twitches
of the old phantom tongue with ease,
like an amputee in love
with his new prosthetic leg.
Just like my father used to make.
Even better
            than the real thing.

He fantasizes
about living out his retirement
in a motorhome,
revealing         his nomad roots.
One continent replaces the other,
but the roads still look the same.
He'll go as far
as his real legs can carry him,

glued to the gas pedal
of this old guzzler.

*     *     *

    My anger, I got from him.
But it was     my mother
who taught me to use it,
to form a fire inside,
hide it from others, forge
a woman's strength:       Roots
digging beneath
this               vinyl floor, through
the asphalt,       all the way to
Santa Monica Pier,               across
                  sub-ocean trenches,
and finally stretching     its
iron-hard     root     fingers
over         a tiny apartment in Taipei.

Roots formed in kitchen-side stories,
        told after-school
        and on weekends, waiting
for my father to return home
from work with a suitcase full
of plaster limbs.  Roots, but
not wings.

            Plaster wings collecting
money like dust,
in constant creation,
buying heirlooms and antiques
at rock-bottom prices
and accruing attention.
                        My father is a god
at buying and selling.

His daughter
to be auctioned off to
an East Coast liberal arts college.
We take off on TWA,
one carry-on bag between the two of us,
to gallivant
across the mid-Atlantic states.
I stayed.

He flew back.
But he left his nomad blood in me.
Blood darker than my mother's.
Blood as dark
                as imported chocolate.

                I cannot draw
a family tree with this blood;
it would always flow off the page,
                    never drying--
my mother's side
stretches out like a bush,
its top hanging heavily over the sidewalk.
      My father
is that lone mango,
heavy with the ripeness of age,
but heavy and alone.
Born of its own heavy seed.

*     *     *

Instead, I write.
I write his story like a guilty disciple,
forced to witness and
participate in
his flight from that origin land.
Dried-up dirt settles upon his recent tracks,
concealing the names of
brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts.
Zang si le.
            I have taken the
earth as my given name,
the earth and its many paths.
None lead back to the same place.

*     *     *

    Still, I am his daughter.
I carry his name with me.

    My words will recreate this story
for the next generation
            of nomad gods.

10 March 1994 -- 14 May 1994
- line -

Definitions of Chinese and other words:

Ex nihilo
[Latin] out of nothing.
return to main text
Guangdong Province.
An area in Southern China surrounding the city of Canton.
return to main text
Bu yao wen.
[Chinese] do not ask.
return to main text
Zang si le.
[Chinese] extremely dirty. This is a play on my family name, which is spelled "Zhang" in pinyin Romanization, and which sounds just like the word for "dirty".
return to main text

- line -

Return to Table of Contents

[Art on the Net]

Sylvia Chong (