Richard Berlin's Poetry Column
--for Chun Li, who adopted "Angel" as her American name
If you want to find an angel
ride a bamboo raft down the Dragon River,
past the waterwheel and ancient banyan tree
to the earthen dam and five steps
carved into the riverbank
that lead to the old inn door.
You will know her by her laugh
which rhymes with the sound of the splash
the water makes when it meets the shore,
and by her black braid held with white ribbon.
She will be perched on the counter
like an ornament, and you will wonder
how she learned to speak English,
navigate the Internet, and answer the phone.
She will send you to the fishing village
where they kept her hidden
because she has no legs,
where her bones grew so brittle
they broke like rice stalks after the harvest.
When you return, you will talk
about Bill Clinton's visit to her home,
the fragrance of the local tea,
about America, McDonald's and KFC,
and the medications they gave her in L.A.
to keep her from breaking again.
And you will learn to love her
almost as much as her mother
who picks her up and carries her
to the river in a pink Nike backpack,
her Angel as light as a set of wings.
Dr. Berlin is associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Berlin recently established the Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the only medical student creative writing prize in the United States.