Friday, February 01, 2008

on the confederate flag

on the confederate flag
by kelly zen-yie tsai

i heard the boy
on the tv
say it was a part
of his culture
that he was proud and
well hell, how could
i argue with that?

he posed in front
of his used car in
a dusty field and looked
the camera straight in the eye

his sandy blonde
hair cut sharply
above his eyebrows

i had some cousins
that grew up in Atlanta
and i rememeber
that Texan Korean
comedian from way
back in the day named
something like
Henry Cho

i know that Chang & Eng,
the first Siamese twins,
owned a plantation in North Carolina
at the turn of the century after
Ringling Brothers emancipated
them from their freakish

they even married
white women and owned
slaves of their own

whether you were
white or black depended
on what state you lived in,
who you were, what you did,
what you knew.

while Chinamen
hung from ropes
squeezed ‘round their
necks in California

haven’t you ever
heard “he doesn’t
have a Chinamen’s
chance before?”

i don’t know if there’s
a Vietnamese dude in New Orleans
who tacks that criss-crossed
craze of red, white, and blue
next to his GuanYin, hands outstretched
offering mercy over ceramic bowls
of incense, oranges and rice

or a Chinese kid in Houston
bumping Paul Wall on his
his low-rider speakers with
two flags pasted together
dangling from the rearview mirror:

newly arrived to this legacy

i am nothin’ but a yankee
yellow gurl who could never
understand why the dukes of
hazzard painted that cross of
stars over their side doors that
they slid so easily in and out of

just a yankee yellow gurl

witness to all the Chicago stories of
Northern migration and dogbites
taken from uncle’s legs, firemen’s
water hoses forcing apart children’s hands,
hand-me-down-sense impressions of
great-grandmothers on Arkansas chicken farms
who lived through days of slavery

i see these sewn into red black and green
emblazoned on foreheads, on wrists, on waists,
on legs, on ankles, on feet, clutched in hands
bouncing to the beats built to tear down all walls with heat,
to keep from ever daring to close anyone back in.

so when the boy on the tv
talks about culture, talks about
pride, i want to lean through the glass,
grab him ever so gently by the collar,
and ask:

but my dear, which culture, what culture?

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