2017 Poetry

Dorothy Chan


I see two nurses kissing at the gay club,
              their latex dresses and Florence Nightingale caps
and white heels straight out of my childhood
              dreams of being like Hello Nurse
from Animaniacs, that blonde bombshell
              sex goddess cartoon with cleavage stacked
like bookshelves and red lips even tastier
              than the pizza she nibbled on in that scene
when Yakko and Wakko sing about her 160+ IQ
              and multiple PhDs, but you know what
they were really drooling over,
              leaving seven-year-old me to wonder
what place a little Asian girl has in this world
              of ’90s Marilyn Monroes running in slo-mo
on the beach wearing red swimsuits,
              their nipples perking up on primetime,
or fair-skinned sex kittens on the covers of
              Playboy, Hustler, and whatever men read
“for the articles,” girls-next-door
              with baby faces and bare bums,

while twenty-five-year-old me thinks
              about getting a guy who can “do both,”
because the kissing nurses are two blond pretty
              boys with just enough muscle, and oh,
how every time I’m attracted to a guy,
              I think about what he’ll look like in a dress,
because I refuse to be the only one with
              feminine wiles, and it’s funny how we’re
turned on by the simplest things,
              how love hotels in Japan have “Under the Sea”
themed rooms, and what woman wouldn’t
              want to get fucked dressed as a mermaid
and “In the Space Station,” a ’70s James Bond
              romp in the golden sack, then of course,
the Victorian rooms and the hot tubs
              surrounded by Roman pillars, and the red
bird cages for a little midnight dance,

              but what if I’d rather play doctor than
nurse, or teacher than schoolgirl,
              or fly you rather than ride you? Or why can’t
we have a go on the carousel
              in the middle of the funhouse, surrounded by
carnival mirrors, because I like you a little scared
              riding that horse, wrapped in my arms.


All my mother wanted as a little girl was a pair
              of red stockings, her childish version of elegance,

the way scarlet would pop against her clothes,
              and I think about this when she sends me a package

of fishnets, because I like things a little sexpot,
              a little oh honey, it’s not what I did, but what

I can do to you tonight, and how my mother wanted red
              so bad it gave her a fever, because she grew up

with three siblings in a closet-sized Hong Kong apartment,
              my grandmother running the pajama stand downstairs,

my grandfather working in HR, bringing life-size dolls
              with glass eyes from Europe and watches from Sweden,

but never anything a girl wanted, and I see this image of my mother
              at fifteen at the dinner table: she and her sisters rush

through Grandfather’s noodles so they can run downstairs
              to the candy store before closing time, and let’s face it:

my grandfather’s never been the best cook, and my mother’s stuffing
              her face with vegetables when my father walks in—

he’s twenty-nine, a friend of my grandparents and that weird age gap
              between being too young to be their friends and too old

to date my mom, but I know the way she’s looking at him,
              the movie star of her apartment, like this could really be

something, but boy bye, I need to buy my chocolates first
              before closing time, and we’ll have a year to get together.


My father hates sushi,
              and that’s the Chinese tiger in him talking
at the rotating sushi belt restaurant
              in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong,
as I grab a slab of sweet corn nigiri,
              my dreams of eating corn on everything
since the day I was born, now coming true,
              and Dad sticks to his grilled hamachi,
dumplings, and the sake we’re chugging,
              wondering why I craze over fatty tuna
belly and scallop and striped bass and sweet
              shrimp, because to him, it’s just hunks of raw fish
atop rice, made to look pretty,

              not to taste good, but if he only understood
chewing a piece of squid forever,
              or tasting the sponginess of tamago egg
just as sweet as it is yellow,
              or taking a lesson from The Three Bears:
sashimi that’s not too thick, not too thin,
              and behold foie gras sushi,
nigiri with mango cubes—
              ahhhh to all the wonders of mackerel,
the beauty of the shrimp head,
              the chirashi bowl, like a garden of flowers
from Wonderland, complete
              with cucumber centerpiece,
and seaweed salad that looks like mermaid’s hair,

but when the unagi on rice bed comes,
              I’m three again, remembering
the times we visited the wet market together,
              looking at the eels in the tanks,
me hiding behind him,
              my shield, my knight, the tiger that
growled at the water snakes jetting their heads
              out the tanks, as I begged to leave, crying,
wanting ice cream instead of this erotica:
              eels necking each other,
trying to neck me in, suck on me,
              and Dad would grab my hand,
buy me a strawberry cone, a red bean cone
              for him—on the walk home, a cone
in one hand, a bag of lychees and cherries
              in the other, he’d stop to buy me
the stuffed gorilla with the big nostrils
              I pointed at outside the toy shop window.


Dorothy Chan is the author of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, forthcoming March 2018) and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared in Blackbird, Plume, The Journal, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, The McNeese Review, Salt Hill Journal, and others. Chan is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at

2017 Poetry

Dorothy Chan


I want to be sex on legs,
your thinking man’s porn star
in a home video
that’ll never get leaked,
because I refuse to turn
into a rich blonde girl
in a velour tracksuit and fuzzy top
asking for five minutes
to take a call from a rhinestone
cell phone blinged out,
and you’re not getting me
in a cheongsam or kimono
or chopsticks in my hair
or a silk dragonfly blanket
wrapped around our naked bodies,
bamboo door exposing our shadows,
your Asian-fantasy-Manifest-Destiny-
ending in a hot, hotter, hottest
tub scene, but not all East Asia’s
the same, and it’s a no go
if you can’t get to a woman’s heart,
or know when she eats mooncake,
and not puke at merely the mention
of durian, or learn what provinces
her parents came from,
why they came to America,
why her skin’s so soft
and her eyes so black,
or why she’s always craving
a sampler of dim sum for breakfast
and some Cantonese duck for dinner,
because unlike you,
not everything’s handed to her on a platter.


If I played roller derby, my name would be Yellow Fever,
             knocking out all those white boys from college
                           who used to whisper sweet nothings to me

in Mandarin, trying to seduce through the pure poetry
             of simplified Chinese on hand-delivered letters,
                           and come on, this is the 21st century,

and I’m not here to make friends or be your 4th grade pen pal
             just because you’re lonely after watching tentacle porn
                           for the first time, and you don’t understand real art:

how to sit during tea ceremonies or where to watch
             the best Chinese opera, and how buying a kimono
                           at EPCOT doesn’t qualify for a pass

to Tokyo Fashion Week, and you expect praise, idolatry,
             applause from the entire Chinese population
                           for your summers in Shanghai selling real estate,

working for Daddy, and oh, white boy, how you think every form
             of Asian food is a dumpling, because they’re all
                           so “cute and small,” just like your type of girl

with dark hair and red lips that you want to display as trophies,
             as “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” Japanese collectibles,
                           as vintage dolls from the mainland,

and they’re all interchangeable, and all of this is too good for you,
             so don’t you dare tell me how to pronounce “nigiri”
                           when you can’t even chug sake like a CEO

or tell me where to get the best Hong Kong buffet
             when you can’t stomach red bean and oyster sauce
                           and don’t know the difference between teas

and I don’t have time to help you pick out a soy sauce,
             so just accept the fact that I look great in gold short shorts
                          and will never take you back to my homeland.



My aunt is picking out blouses and I can’t help but stare:
the woman in fishnets and silver heels tries on cocktail outfits:
floral teacup dresses, lace shirts, floor-length skirts
golden, dramatic, matching the length of her glued-on lashes
and cheekbones higher than the Victoria Peak.
Her beau, an Australian Sugar, dandies himself,
taking a top hat off the mannequin, adding in a cane,
playing dress-up: he’s now a flaming-haired flâneur
from Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe—
the all-black outfit, hand over chin, pondering,
lying back while the woman’s the bold one.

The gold digger keeps asking about prices,
though she’s not the one with the wallet. I look at necklaces,
wondering how much money she plans on spending—
maybe after the next couple thousand, she’ll flee this man
and pick up a new one who’s hanging around an overpriced pub:
greasy fingers, mid-life crisis, loser back home,
ready to score big in Asia.
My aunt whispers, “It’s all happy shopping for now.”
I look at this woman, remembering all those Australian
and British men in Singapore night clubs who wanted to wine and
dine me, or that businessman from yesterday’s happy hour
who offered to buy me a red dress,
fly me to an Ivy League ball in Tokyo.
It’s a weird life. But who really holds the power?
Should I have gone off with that man,
taken the dress, seduced him on the dance floor,
make him buy me double shots of whiskey?
No, but I’ll take the weirdness and the power,
and I think back to Manet, how the nude woman
acts so unabashed, like she’s laughing at the viewer,
as my aunt is too busy buying tight sweaters plus a watch for me,
as we’re leaving and the Korean woman tries on
a top hat headband as her dandy admires her head of hair,
both their hats in tow like we’re in Paris at the turn of the century.
Is this the couple of the ages? Who are we anyway?


Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinatown Sonnets, which was selected by Douglas Kearney as the winner of New Delta Review’s 6th Annual Chapbook Contest. She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship and a 2017 finalist for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry from Pleiades Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, The Journal, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, The McNeese Review, and Salt Hill Journal. She is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. Visit her website at