Ma Ma’s city is all 4th-floor walkup,
all mahjong tiles and cigarette smoke,
all Tai Yu at the wet market
because the vendors don’t listen
if you haggle in Mandarin,
all bus, always bus—we don’t spend money on taxis
like that—all Danshui, Nai Nai’s house in the fields
all bing lang stands and bowl cuts.
when we first moved back to Taipei,
I know she barely recognized it then,
how the city sits so different on my skin.
if you ask me about my hometown,
I’ll say my city is red MRT line and soup dumplings,
is declaring there isn’t a spot in the precinct
I can’t get to by subway,
is English in school and Mandarin everywhere else,
tucking the foreign away at the night markets
(even when our eyeliner and accents make it a moot point)
is honey toast and lu wei by the pound, cat villages,
pork chop bentos on every train.
and of course, there are things never change too:
August typhoons, mango ice stands;
Ma Ma’s been going to the same dumpling shop
for 37 years.
I don’t visit home much these days,
but she looks a little different every time I do:
what can I say I know about her
except how she used to be?
she’s moving body, all starts and stops,
all the ways we harden
loving a thing as long as that.
Juliana Chang is a Taiwanese American poet. She is the 2019 recipient of the Urmy/Hardy Poetry Prize, the 2017 recipient of the Wiley Birkhofer Poetry Prize, and a 2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Medalist in Poetry. She received a BA in Linguistics and a MA in Sociology from Stanford University in 2019. Her debut chapbook INHERITANCE was the winner of the 2020 Vella Contest and published with Paper Nautilus Press in 2021.