Across from my new university, there
is a chicken, or rather, a statue of one,
its tail and wings shaped like flames,
painted black like it’s racing to go somewhere.
But the exhaust is burnt, its feet planted—
it has no roads to cross.

Before there was Hollins,
there was Big Lick—those salt marshes,
the hub for buffalo, elk, and deer.
Then there was “Rawrenock,” those white
shell beads worn by the Indigenous.
Then, Roanoke became a city,
a crossroad for trade.

Long before there were caged chickens,
there were free-range dinosaurs—
their feathers never attached
to modern statues.

Before that, there were these mountains: Appalachian,
older than the Atlantic Ocean,
before the lands of Europe and America separated,
before life evolved—
the only fossils found here are shells.

Long before I was an egg,
I was a whisper— the sprinkling of fine pixie
dust of a moth’s wing in my mother’s stomach.
She had never known what love was,
so when lust came rolling up to her front door
in a racing red Celica, she was fooled.
This horse, this man was not hers to tame.

Like a protagonist of her very own Main Street,
she too was awestruck by the bounty of America.
There was no “spinning like a girl in a brand new dress.”
There was no holy ground.
Nobody warned her that dreams
were for those with white wings.

My mother is a chicken in the zodiac,
her element the earth.
Her first home in America in Rocky Mount.
Her first job in Roanoke, her eyes
always locked on the ground,
searching for weeds to pull up,
for words to say.

“I love you” never came.
But still, she stays.
Still, the dust settles.

Before there was me, there was a migration.
Long before the Vietnamese traversed the sea,
the Chinese stampeded west, building
the railroads to connect this country.
And yet, we are still foreigners,
our tongues branded
meat. And yet, I am still
American, centuries apart.

Now, I travel the same road
to school as she once did to work.
I see the same mountains she once saw—
those blue ridges
a reminder that she was so far
away from green paddies.

I breathe home into homework.
I lick my mother’s words,
digest them into stories.
I brand her An Thuy: Hero /\ Anti-hero.

My mother clucks loudly, almost yelling.
I bark softly, almost a whisper.
I translate ‘poem’ to bài thơ,
‘write literature’ to viết văn,
‘love’ to tình yêu,
so that she can voice
my dreams.

Chanlee Luu is a Vietnamese-Chinese American writer from southern Virginia. She received her MFA in creative writing at Hollins University and BS in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia. She writes about identity, pop culture, science, politics, and everything in between. She can be found on Twitter, and her work can be found in Snowflake Magazine, the gamut mag, Cutbow Quarterly, Tint Journal, diaCRITICS, andThe Offing, among others. She is the winner of the 2024 Jean Feldman Poetry Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House; her debut collection is forthcoming in October.