Directions to Citizenship

Simon Shieh

In this country, where the day will never tell you

how hot it will be, I’m walking on a dirt road, drenched

in my last name. The sweat not yet dripping from my eyelashes,

I had wandered so long I could taste the reason God

made water. Above me, a tree stump lonely as a leg lost to a storm

from another country. Sometimes, my tongue is a country

unto itself. Its people are small but draped in sanctimony. Its rivers

run quicker than the space in between two well-wrapped goodbyes

on a sidewalk. You reaching for your suitcase as if you know

I’ll take it from you. You’re right. America taught me to be nervous

but I still don’t know how. And although it is everywhere it is only now

coming to the mouth of the boy, bent under the hour, asking

his teacher for the words sugarcane, money, and sunrise.

Oh how I love the politics of the tongue.

If our speech was music, I’d scrape a stick against a sandy

rock so you’d hear politics. Water would be a nun rustling the leaves in her pink

robes, plucking jasmine petals. I’ve never regretted tenderness.

Not the flag keeping vigil on the shoreline nor the wound disappearing beneath it.

Even a man spitting out the bones of a fish can fall into a river.

In this country, where everything is wet, the rain doesn’t know what to call me.

Somewhere, this is exile. This country—where everything is ours

and I’m lost in it.

Simon Shieh was born in Taiwan and raised in upstate New York and Beijing. He is currently a Princeton in Asia fellow teaching at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. Simon is the Managing Editor of the Spittoon Literary Magazine—a journal of English and Chinese literature—and the Editor in Chief of the Beijing Youth Literary Review—a bilingual journal for 14–19 year-olds writing from or about Asia. Next year, he will be the Writer in Residence at the International School of Beijing, where he hopes to complete a chapbook of poetry about his experience as a Muay Thai fighter.
Published June 30, 2017
© 2017 Simon Shieh