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  • Michelle Oshima Burke

Why Is It? A Lament for My Asian Sisters

Updated: May 3, 2021

Soon after the Atlanta murders, Bay Area resident Michelle Oshima Burke penned this poem out of her grief for Asian women everywhere. – Editors

Why is it

that the shape of my eyes

or the color of my skin

would grant you permission

to take what is not yours,

to steal my dignity,

to destroy my trust,

to make me question my worth

and curse the day

that I was born in this form

that I cannot escape?

Who are you

that you think your color

and your gender

and your culture

gives you the right

to decide that

the laws that guide

decent behavior

toward little girls

no longer apply

when it comes to me?

Where can I go

and who will listen,

and not point the finger,

or make assumptions,

or question the truth

that with every stolen touch,

obscene whisper, and threatening leer

yet another piece

of my divinely given personhood

was taken away?

How can I not hate,

or see through dark lenses,

or carry this large chip,

on my angry shoulders,

needing to prove myself

as worthy of respect,

or check each day

that the clothes I choose to wear

won’t be the cause

for you to lose control yet again?

What did I do

on that day, every day

that triggered your hunger

for flesh like mine?

Was it the way I looked down,

trying to avoid your eyes

hoping to be invisible,

fading into the background,

whispering under my breath

“Don’t see me, don’t see me…?”

Or how I hunched my shoulders

hoping you wouldn’t notice

that I was indeed female,

working extra hard at my job

hoping that someone, anyone

would come into the room

to interrupt the inevitable;

praying for a witness

to say, “It’s not you, it’s him.”

Who told you the lie

that I really do love

when you back me into a corner

and tell me what you want to do,

or enjoy feeling like

one of the appetizers on the menu,

or a candy bar hidden in your desk drawer

to be consumed in secret

and then discarded in the trash

like an empty wrapper

until tomorrow when the cycle continues?

Did you know

that time does not heal all wounds

but multiplies the hurt

like reverse compounded interest

in my bankrupt soul,

so that even now

I believe that I must have

brought this shame upon myself

because those lies must be true?

How do I fight for myself and others

when the insidious threat

continues to shape shift

through movies and carefully chosen

rhetoric that deflects and

defends the perpetrator,

who in the eyes of the world

just couldn’t help himself

acting out his racist fears,

justifying the million other offenses

against little girls and women

who happen to look like me?

© 3/22/21 Michelle Oshima Burke

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