Poetry / December 2014 (Issue 26)

Self Portrait as Man Stuck Inside Karaoke Video

by Chen Chen

I am Dutch & nothing I am doing has anything to do
with the Chinese lyrics of the pop song, which roll phrase
by phrase across my knees & the multicolored tulips.
The American students in the Beijing karaoke bar
watch me & groan. They complain that neither I nor Holland

are properly illustrating the song, which they say is about
star-crossed lovers or perhaps, the happiness that comes
with buying new cars (their Chinese isn’t great). Instead, I am
walking around a park, alone, or ordering coffee from a silent
barista at an otherwise empty café. No lover, no car,

no explanation. Flowers everywhere, though I think the song
is about a winter romance. It’s hard to know for sure, always
having to read the lyrics upside down as they cover my legs.
But I’ve been in this video for some time now—used to be that I
wanted to break through the screen & scream, I’m not Dutch,

I’m Chinese American, I know a decent amount of Chinese,
I don’t know how I got stuck with this gig, someone please
get me out of this place.
On better days I wanted to be
helpful, to flirt with the man serving me coffee, to stomp out
the flowers, & give my students & tourists the lesson, the story

they came here for. Now all I want is to hear their groans grow
louder. Now I enjoy being Dutch. I take pleasure in the coffee,
the tulips, the solitary walks. I live simply & cause great confusion.
& when they change the song or shut the whole thing off,
I want to yell, No, not again, not yet, don’t make me sleep.
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