We thought my life
was following the same
curves as yours, Mama
but I was slowly
curling into the
of a möbius strip
and when I finally
straightened I became
the inverse of you.
You always said
history repeats itself
but did you know
that when life looped
back again, we would
be on opposite planes?
I ran away from
the same thing
that saved you
because in my
orbit, your legacy
became my curse.
Months have folded into years yet
you’re still not married. You said,
“after college, Ma.” so I held
onto that paper thin promise
as years folded into years.
I see you read and reread directions
when folding an origami crane,
when trying a new karaage recipe.
You worry that you’ll make a mistake
but never think to consult my advice.
My hands are creased and crumpled with age
they remind me that I want to be a grandma.
My hands will teach your future daughter
how to fold origami cranes. We’ll practice
until she doesn’t have to look at the directions.
Until I was a mother my life was a blank
sheet of paper waiting to be shaped.
I want to help you find this same blessing
but now I worry that you’ve grown
paper wings to fly away from me.
After “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds
When my mom was growing up in Saitama
she was a tomboy who liked competitive sports.
she would challenge her friends to play
tennis and ping pong—and would always win.
her friends nicknamed her “Skeleton”
when they learned that word in English class
and compared it to her lean athletic body.
I wish I got to meet this version of my mom
because I’ve never know her to like sports.
When my dad was growing up in Wisconsin
he had never seen the ocean and had only
been to two states. What he knew was sitting
between his parents in a pickup truck,
inhaling a cloud of their cigarette smoke
as they argued about bills and kids.
While my dad took it all in, I imagine that
he dreamed up his own future family,
one that wasn’t complicated by divorce.
When my parents met in New York City
they both knew they were ready to get married
but neither one knew just who they would marry.
They left that decision to a man who matched couples
by pointing at them one by one, drawing
from a crowded room full of eager men and women.
Meaning was assigned to these new couples:
proof of their commitment to the movement,
an active step toward world peace,
and the promise of sinless children.
They thought it a blessing to be in that room.
After years of being told he was too young,
my dad was relieved to finally have a wife.
And my mom couldn’t stop herself from thinking
that her new husband looked like Tom Cruise.
Sometimes I wonder what other lives
my parents would have it they weren’t matched.
If the choice was their own, who would they pick?
For my mom, I picture a cosmopolitan life in Tokyo.
She would marry a salary man who would give
her gifts from business trips abroad—
perhaps tea from London and sweets from Taipei.
My dad would create a quaint Midwestern life
with a housewife who wears necklaces with
pendants shaped like crosses and claddagh rings,
the type of wife who fundraises for the PTA.
But I always stop there. Yes, these lives
would make more sense than reality
but believing in them would mean taking
all that I know and swirling it together,
forming small whirlpools until it all dissolves.
And I can’t because I have always wanted to live.
Yoshika Wason is a mixed-race Japanese American Nisei who is a teacher currently residing in Japan. She is a former Editor-in-Chief of ASIAM, an Asian Pacific Islander American literary magazine, at Boston College. Read her chapbook “Extra Bold” and other work here: https://yoshikawason.wordpress.com/
Na Wang is a part-time illustrator from China. She is interested in illustrating and photographing. You can find her at her personal website: http://www.zcool.com.cn/u/