“Other Names You Have Used Since Birth”
Family Name: 柯
a mouth began
in the south east corner
of the continent where
a tribe of teeth
once shared rice until
some of them fled
to escape the war.
one of them found light
in a woman who inhabited
this name, bore its feet
kept on walking
Given Name: 而霓
and it rained
and the woman’s body filled
with hope. and the hands prayed
and the house nested.
and I arrived. air flipped
with colors — a reverse rainbow
Name Change (Optional): Annie
A for Annie. B for birth. C for a country
floating on sea. I sang in pigtails,
with a clustered tongue in a school named after
giraffe with a teacher made of pearls. A power
in cursive. A mind dyed with curls. Overnight wash.
Brainfreeze. A-head of the herd.
Would you like to legally change your name?
I found illegal history on illegal land.
I tore Annie into pieces of waste paper graded C minus
I descended from clouds and entered a volcano
of sugared skin.
Call me Kaya, please.
If you answered “Yes,” type or print the new name you would like to use in the spaces provided
Name my eyes foreign. Name my story a fiction. Name my feet a contradiction.
Name my accent borrowed. Name my presence a question. Name my paper
Family Name (Last Name): Arnoux
Last time. Last resort. Last forever. I last past
the expiration date. My last word: I do. My last hand held.
At last, a name of the oppressor. In the last minute.
In last place. To be colonized is to be an elongated
pain that lasts beyond columns.
Given Name (First Name): Er Ni
It doesn’t mean anything. The capital E stretches its arms to cover,
to keep from bleeding its unknown origin. The N is all too gritty. The N
word. The N sound. The N pronunciation. How I never know where to place
my tongue. Over or under. Flat or lifted. My lips widened into a crack.
Middle Name (if applicable):
I am. Between first and last.
I am. Between Annie and Er Ni.
I am. Between family and given.
I am. Between here and there.
Nowhere. In the middle. I am all
the other names. Since birth.
A 14-Year-Old Boy Visiting California
Josh sits on the hood of my kia soul
and he hears nigger
and he turns, sees a boy
and Josh walks up to him
and Josh asks how old are you
and the boy rolls up the window
and the boy is 7
and the security comes
and the security leaves
and the father of the boy comes
and the father of the boy shrugs
and the father of the boy says it’s not a big deal
and the car pulls off
and I come out of the staples
and Josh is quiet
and I ask what happened
and he tilts his cap
and he recalls nigger
and he tells me about the boy
and he tells me about the father
and I say seriously?
and I say in Pasadena?
and I say let’s cheer you up
and get a starbucks
and I drive
and nigger fills up the car
and it fumes
and it palpitates our breaths
and I ask have you ever been called
and I pause, the n word in new york?
and he says all the time
and he looks at his phone
and he says all the time
and he sips on his straw
Kaya Arnoux is a poet, visual arts teacher, and language educator born & raised in Taiwan. After making peace with her identity as an immigrant, she began to focus her writing on the inquiry of language as a colonizing medium and how reclaiming the English language as her own gives affirmation to her existence as a migrant. Her poetry investigates the meaning of tradition, family, identity, and what it means to be Asian in a racialized country. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their biracial daughter.
Featured photo courtesy of Bryan Alexander.