Yoonmee Chang

Shallows II

Orbit: The Asian American Issue
Volume 15:3, Summer 2014

Shallows II

I dug a ditch, but
my neighbor said it was too shallow
It won’t properly catch
the rain, he said
Tomorrow, the workaday of wind
will curl its edges
fill its imperceptible slope
at least the day after
definitely by next week

What ditch? he said
You dug a ditch?
The ground looks pretty flat

I ate a pear
“Pears are delicious
not the bell-shaped ones with
chewy skin, but the
hard, sizes of fists
that look like a stack of melted donuts
Sure, you’ll pay extra
but everyone likes donuts
Keep at it, they
will soon make you smile”

I have a mouthful of fruit
How’s my chewing?
The pedagogy is imposed
labors of my mouth
cannot teach you my eyes, cannot
will you to hear
the thrush, thrush that
accompanies skin
bursting into bruises

By now,
the ground is definitely level
no, was never properly
worked, my efforts
discredited, phantom you
only draw a right angle
from the height between me
and our soggy, adjacent plots

Is there a surveyor’s tool
that can coax you open?
does more than record the exteriors
that you slavishly
The foreground roaring towards me is not flat
Even if it were,
a wan, one dimension
the swept surface of an open palm
I still split open when it hits me.


Yoonmee Chang (November 2, 1970 - January 18, 2018) was born in Seoul, South Korea, and received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania with a specialization in Asian American diasporic literature and culture. She was an Associate Professor of English at George Mason University from 2005 until her death, and was previously an Assistant Professor of English and American Studies at Indiana University. She is the author of Writing the Ghetto: Class, Authorship, and the Asian American Ethnic Enclave (Rutgers University Press, 2010). Chang also did research in Disability Studies and wrote poetry. At the time of her death at age 48, she was writing a book on the zainichi, Koreans in Japan from the colonial period and their descendants.