‘Ars Poetica in a Dream Language’ by Anni Liu

— Joyce Chong

                                    I can’t / unhear my Chinese
memories in English / does that make them / American

This week, a beautiful poem by Anni Liu in The Margins on language, heritage, and identity. There is a common imagery, a consistent through-line in ‘Ars Poetica in a Dream Language’ that ties language, and the imperfect relationship between mother tongue and place and identity together. A complicated, knotted and winding path or sorts.

                                                        in this dream
she leaves me / to muddle her hair / from my mouth
a thin silk / slick with saliva / I render into shapes
that look nothing / like her

The topic of language attrition in diaspora is one that is universal to the first and, especially, the second generation immigrant experience. The degree to which we are defined by what we speak, and the infinite permutations beyond that of how we speak, how we live, and how we grow in other countries is inextricably tied to this loss; this transformation of language beyond its homeland. Liu illustrates language as thread, as hair, dark and long and mirroring genetic identity. As the daughter who inherits her mother’s hair, struggles to untangle and tangle the threads from her mouth. As the words that come, knotted and changed, made new with passing time.

                                  then let me / also go back
in time / to the original state / examine at length
or in a hurry / because what is obscure / becomes