Great American Poem

by Molly Zhu
I scrubbed the Great American Poem clean
of apple pie, white picket fence,
and blonde family, but even so, I left it just a little bit
dirty, grimy: dead
skin cells under the ah-yi’s fingernails,
how the stale machinery and exhaustion in her head of hair
carries the exhalation of the wok, the cartridge full of gas,
the bokchoy, the rice. How the shu shu
at the hospital is invisible as a glass noodle,
and how he exists as a ghost in world of pagers and fax machines,
and the doctors who breathe scientific words around him all day long…
The Great American Poem is about fathers who are treated like young boys
in line at the Sunoco down the street,
and for their daughters watching, left wondering, who
is meant to protect who in this slippery world, and when the
Jehovah’s witness knocks on the suburban front door, for
my lao lao who makes eye contact through the frosted
glass, then hides in the shadow of the shoe closet.
It is an ode to hungering salvation, weaving under fluorescent lights
in the town’s only Chinese grocery store, makeshift shelves of
dried squid and packets of pork floss in their chaotic display…
how these familiar tokens become modern-day symbols of safety.
And melancholia… how it flows like an undertow,
splinters like a family legacy…
the Great American Poem is no stranger to air travel. It flies
across the world to sit at its parents’ dining table,
where its grandparents ate dinner
every single night, for years and years while they
stared out through the crooked windows trying to imagine how,
how, could their sons and daughters
ever leave this home.

About the author

Molly is a Chinese American poet and attorney. Her work is about Chinese culture, her family and the things that make her cry. She has been published in Hobart Pulp, the Ghost City Press, and Bodega Magazine, among others. In 2021, she was nominated for a Pushcart prize. She is the winner of the inaugural Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize hosted by the Cordella Press and her first chapbook is forthcoming. To learn more, you can visit

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