By Grace Lu

black (2020) in Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary
noun [uncountable] the very darkest colour / like night or coal

like ink stains on a bookshelf in my parents’ Chicago apartment (1989)
I don’t know if the bookshelf is real but in my mind it is 
and even though it holds little it sags plenty because it is garage sale quality
It is the end of a decade and Celine Dion and Lionel Richie play on every American radio 
and my parents are building a future 
they are toiling in technical functions 
they have a work ethic 
the “it’s not about what you know but who you know” type of white people 
have no reason to maintain 
and they do this on foreign ground with no professional network (1) 
no American accent (2) 
no white American brand of charisma (3) 
and they will raise a daughter who has all of the above ( 1 / 2 / 3 ) handed to her 
as readily as the mother’s breast milk 
and later when the father explains why it will be in 
one breath – no commas no periods – 
the father skims through his childhood and young adult life 
the way white parents click fast-forward  
through the Paint-me-like-one-of-your-French-girls scene in Titanic (1997) 
whenever they watch it with children on VCR 
and in my head this is all in 
one breath – no commas no periods – 
because I don’t need grammar 
I don’t need either of our three shared languages
to know what my father is trying to tell me 
and language is like culture
as in sometimes the rules are unspoken 
and even though I know what they are I break 
them anyway

black (2020) in Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary
verb (British English) to refuse to deal with goods or to do business with somebody 

as a political protest; as an attempt to unlearn the way 
generations of trauma have robbed me of sustainable self-worth 
have told me that failures of circumstance are failures of self 
my dignity is shredding like paper
as in my understanding of this world is colored 
not only by an immigrant hunger for generational wealth 
but also by an American conviction that wealth is destined for those who are worthy 
and barred from those who are not and
I am tired of white people
who think saying goodbye to that is as easy as follow your dreams 
because even after the turtle becomes your pet 
it does not forget the ocean

black (2020) in Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary
adjective having the very darkest colour / like coal or the sky at night; like my parents
the stereotypical 80’s era first-gen Chinese-Americans 
who cut off one arm to live in “paradise”
and the other arm to birth a child who grows up there and never has to leave
so how can I live with myself for having less than them in 
income – the good capitalist’s measure of success
as in whenever I accept an honor or award for my (low-paying) humanities career
I see only myself tumbling down social ladders former peers climb seamlessly
social ladders I chose to step off of 
but follow your dreams does not change how climbing that ladder 
was as much of a rule for me as i before e 
as in even in a poem with no commas no periods  
the plural form of family does not end with

black (2020) in Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary
adjective full of anger or hate; as in don’t you dare 

put this poem next to tragic tales about abandoned women 
the likes of Miss Saigon and South Pacific (see: The American Musical) 
because my parents did not birth a damsel in distress 
they raised a protagonist
as in I am not a victim / I am a hero and
my story is not for white culture to save or abandon 
it is layered and alive 
the way these words are black and beautiful 
and some of its pages are empty but unlike that of a Rodgers & Hammerstein character 
they are for no man to write on 
(see: Sixteen Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music (1959)) 
I am growing in a way that is uncomfortable and meandering 
I am determined to remember the life I want is the life I deserve 
and even if hope is a mere fantasy I will not 
change desire in the horizon of disappointment and 
this ability is innate
as in it was mine when my mother was listening to Celine Dion in ‘89 
a near decade before my birth and 
it will be mine when Dion is but a figure in ancient history
It will be mine when I am ancient history / It will be mine
It will be mine / It is mine
It is mine / I am mine

The way black is the darkest color in every
noun / adjective / verb

About the author:

Grace is a Texan who recently found her home in the Pacific Northwest. She has written creative work for various publications, including Dual Coast Magazine, The Fear of Monkeys, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

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