from The Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Women’s Anthology, edited by Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Mayumi Tsutakawa, and Margarita Donnelly (Calyx Books, 1989)
CHILDREN ARE COLOR-BLIND
I never painted myself yellow
the way I coloured the sun when I was five.
The way I colored whitefolks with the “flesh” crayola.
Yellow pages adults thumbed through for restaurants,
taxis, airlines, plumbers . . .
The color of summer squash, corn, eggyolk, innocence and tapioca.
My children knew before they were taught.
They envisioned rainbows emblazoned over alleyways;
Clouds floating over hilltops like a freedom shroud.
With hands clasped, time dragged them along and they followed.
Wind-flushed cheeks persimmon,
eyes dilated like dark pearls staring out the backseat windows,
they speed through childhood like greyhounds
into the knot of night, hills fanning out,
an ocean ending at an underpass,
a horizon blunted by lorries, skyscrapers,
vision blurring at the brink of poverty.
Dani, my three-year-old, recites the alphabet from
billboards flashing by like pages of a cartoon flipbook,
where above, carpetbaggers patrol the freeways like
Olympic gods hustling their hi-tech neon gospel,
looking down from the fast lane,
dropping Kool dreams, booze dreams, fancy car dreams,
fast food dreams, sex dreams and no-tomorrow dreams
like eight balls into your easy psychic pocket.
“Only girls with black hair, black eyes can join!”
My eight-year-old was chided at school for excluding a blonde
from her circle. “Only girls with black hair, black eyes
can join!” taunted the little Asian girls, black hair,
black eyes flashing, mirroring, mimicking what they heard
as the message of the medium, the message of the world-at-large:
“Apartheid, segregation, self-determination!
Segregation, apartheid, revolution!”
Like a contrapuntal hymn, like a curse that refrains in
a melody trapped.
Sometimes at night I touch the children when they’re sleeping
and the coolness of my fingers sends shivers through them that
is a foreshadowing, a guilt imparted.
Dani doesn’t paint herself yellow
the way I colored the sun.
The way she dances in its light as I watch from the shadow.
No, she says green is her favorite color.
“It’s the color of life!”