Originally published in Mass Poetry’s Hard Work of Hope series, June 2020. Revised in 2022 for a Mass Poetry reading event.
At CVS, a woman toes the tape line marking a safe six feet from where I stand. She stares at me slantwise, suspicious, and turns away when I meet her gaze. Mom chats with the grocery checkout girl, thanking her for her service. I, with my darker eyes, reach for the bag. No small talk. She hands it over and walks away to speak to her supervisor. At Super 88, all the cashiers wear masks weeks before the white store workers do. I wonder whom they’re meant to protect, whom they’re trying to appease. Internet comments from the scared and angry, masked by anonymity: Enjoy your bat soup. Why would anyone want to live in China. If Trump dropped a nuke on them, I’m not saying I’d vote for him… Others try to defend us, or those they deem just as American as the rest of us. I think of my grandmother, herded into an internment camp so white people could feel safer. I think of how my grandfather wore a button that said I’m Chinese, not Japanese, because white people couldn’t tell the difference. I think of how when masks cover our noses and mouths, no one sees a smile— only the tilt of our inscrutable, black eyes.