Poems: Dorothy Chan

Illo for Dorothy Chan's poems.

My Mother Tells Me Playboy Is a Bad Word

In Allentown, PA, my mother reads her Hong Kong newspaper
printed out of New York. She’s done with current affairs,
economy, mainland drama, Hong Kong gossip—Headline:
“After Plastic Surgery, Former Miss HK Takes Ten Men Out:
Dim Sum and More.” What a small island.
My mother now does her crossword, while six-year-old me
notices the comics on the bottom right: a tall,
big-breasted-quadruple-D-cup-woman with lush hair,
no face, sits at the doctor’s chair. Her pint-sized doctor needs
no stethoscope, no thermometer, no magnifying glass
because his eyes are wide-enough, as big as her breasts
as he stares, and eyes become breasts become eyes
become breasts. I ask my mother to read me the comic.
She tells me, “No. It’s bad. Don’t look at it.”

I take out a new stencil set, tracing the images
of people onto paper: a woman with a grocery bag,
a girl in a school uniform, a dandy complete with top
hat, tuxedo, and mask. I look at my tracing of the dandy,
wondering why he needs a tuxedo and a mask—
is he some sort of superhero? Does he not want to reveal
a secret identity to his mother? Does he really need flowers
in his coat pocket? “Is this a playboy?” I ask my mother.
She tells me not to say that word because it’s bad.
Six-year-old me doesn’t know what’s wrong—
after all, boys play all the time.
My mother flips the page of her newspaper:
a young woman in a green slip has her breasts
exposed, stars covering nipples. Girls play too.

Bonding with Your Best Friend in the Nude

My best friend asks me to pose for his calendar.
He tells me it won’t be full frontal,
just exposed back with college mascot
painted on skin: the growly bear of my back,
and less “Girl of the Month” and more
group effort since there’d be three other girls
in every shot. The ingénue in me tells him,
“No, I can’t. I’m busy tonight.” And in that moment
when I look into his disappointed eyes,
I think about last Halloween when I went over
to his place to pick out a dress shirt
to match my plaid skirt. He was a vampire.
I played his victim. And before I knew it,
I’m undressing in front of him. He sees me topless,
then I tell him he needs to help me button
his dress shirt tight on me. I grab his back,
he grabs my breasts, and I feel his breath
combine with mine, until we pull away.

And in this moment when I see his disappointment,
I realize that I’d want my own month.
Girls play too, but I can’t do this group effort.
Dorothy Chan is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship and a 2016 semi-finalist for The Word Works’ Washington Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, Day One, and The Great American Poetry Show. In 2012, she was nominated for a Pushcart.

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