April 28th, 2014, 2pm

By now, I know the safety video
By heart and have a standing date with a
TSA officer. I kiss my sweet
American wifi good-bye. It’s time
To fly back to the Great Firewall of China
To usher in the New Year once again.

Three weeks have passed since I stood in the lane
Marked “Citizens.” Permanent residence:
Suburban Whoville with wide, open plains.
Childhood preserved, unchanged from memories.
The lights and roads and houses stay untouched.

The plane is climbing into open sky.
The image underneath slowly recedes.
The cabins switch to night, prepaid cocoons
Prepared for restless sleep. My laptop is
The last light snuffed, and now I’m shrouded in
The engine’s hum, distraction-free, and poised
To contemplate the space between my homes.
I stretch my legs over the North Pole, drift
To sleep above Siberia, then stay
Awake as I enjoy this lull when I
Content myself with straddling both sides
Of the world.

But when the thirteen hours end
I’ll land and stand in line a “Foreigner”
In more ways than one. Subways, bars, cafes:
A few old haunts now faded, taunting, past.
The cafe near my house – the only place
I’ve ever been a “regular” – was wrecked,
Flattened, and uprooted for real estate.
The city builds, breaks down, forges, forgets,
Excavating my memories until
Familiar roads and faces disappear

Every trip, this place becomes
Increasingly a foreigner to me.
But if I ache to feel at home, I just
Need to revert my gaze the way I came.
My life’s no one-way ticket, but a round trip.

Chris, David Wade and Sanna said thanks.

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Nicole Zhu

Youth in Asia (and other places).

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