Karen An-hwei Lee on Kim-An Lieberman’s In Orbit
In the spring of 1975, my grandmother boarded a one-way flight from Saigon to California. She joined a massive wave of postwar refugees desperate to escape Vietnam’s newly communist government; over the next two decades, millions like her would scatter and resettle across the globe. I wrote this poem trying to fathom the meaning and impact of relocation on such an epic scale. My portrait of the Willards is admittedly a touch sarcastic—I was picturing the white-picket realm of Donna Reed and Ward Cleaver, where an Asian face in the neighborhood would be just about as unexpected as a colossal bovine on the front porch—but I also see sincere pathos in Mr. Willard’s attempt to restore familiar logic to his corner of the world. I close the poem with an unresolved silence because while I think that Americans today acknowledge significant debt to all our combined histories of border-crossing and culture-blending, we still haven’t figured out how to shed our reliance on binary conceptions of us and them.