chinatown babyKarina Xie

back when I was your age, sighs the spirit of these streets,
I was washing clothes on the railroad living in the mountains
giving birth in the ditches soldier from a hundred years ago
princess in a southern kingdom dreaming of a new life

your great uncle could’ve bought an apartment on Grand Street
and we’d be rich now instead he sent that money back to us 
and we grew up on different streets but we’re chinatown babies
and found our way back we could’ve been rich could’ve been rich

and no space was too small to fit us in
where did I get in my head who I wanted to be? 
necessity, out of necessity, what does my family need
not smarter than before, perhaps we fit better, or didn’t know better

grandma eats purple or yellow yam for lunch, grandpa takes care of little cousin
uncle no longer sells shoes, but sells health insurance, I get free bandaids and cream
aunt and uncle divorced he said she was fat (and then she actually got liposuction)
grandma gave me my yellow happy shee happy sheep shirt

after closing shop in this old land people settle down as spirits,
there are those who leave and those who sit 
and smoke their days after work watching
the ones who sleep in the pavilion facing the stars at night

chinatown babies see the new kid on the block tell them 
your new life will be okay do your homework
give back to your parents all they did for you
how much of ourselves did we lose did we lose something by going to school?

happiness? never learned that in school
we were more cell biology than philosophy
grew up doing homework dreaming our next life
growing up doing work not knowing what that work is for

chinatown babies playing handball in the park 
helping the man in the hospital who badly needs to pee
sitting at a desk late at night thinking of mother asleep
using your kitchen while our building fixes its gas pipes

eating dim sum for lunch lining the stairs with orchids and building a rooftop garden
wearing blue jeans with holes treating the kids to yaya’s with bonito rice and fake crab
remember when we went to the bathroom by the light of a candle lighter?
me and my cousins on our king-size bed the night of the blackout 

years ago–what now? chinatown baby what are you working for