Empire a Call Away

By ZY Chua

"After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American military was deployed to the Pacific, and troops made their way to places like Guam, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. [...] Spam [...] stuck around in places that experienced [were subjected to] prolonged American military presence after the war ended." —Ang Li, Time, 2019

"[B]udae jjigae, a spicy hodgepodge of Korean vegetables and American processed meats that translates literally as military base stew,” is “a product of a foreign military intervention [...] and an iconic symbol of U.S. imperialism." —Grace M. Cho, Contexts, 2014

Started telling my grandmother
I love her. Loudly, daily, over video calls with
my mother, my mother holding
the phone. My uncle, too, after his voice moved closer, said
lightly, don’t you love me, too? Don’t need to sip air
before projecting: GRANDMOTHER, I LOVE YOU!
Kuku, 我爱你! None of us embarrassed.
Somehow different from back home—my
grandparents’ room, my mother’s childhood
bedroom, the dark hallway that joins
them, plotted with bang. My tongue weighted, though able to form:
good night. I love you. I’ll meet you again
tomorrow—we have a standing date. Again different
from back home—where my mother’s voice beside me,
where she passes me the phone. Here, I am able
to be shameless. Tell my grandmother I
love her, and not be embarrassed
of my own mouth. My mother, amused.
My grandmother, laugh veining
her voice: 我也爱你.
I love you / I love you   —I love you, too.
Well—deep into the pandemic, when the shops have closed.
Ah-Yan’s family business. Not just that. My uncle out looking for food.
Well. You can’t eat love. My mother tells us:
婆婆今天吃午餐肉. Today, what Grandmother had
to eat was Spam. My grandmother asks if my sister and I
have eaten and we have, just ate, ate well.
Sipping yeung ji gum lo in late November—soft,
sweet chunks of mango, swirls of
perhaps, coconut milk, shreds of pomelo
pinking the top. It’s cradled
in the colding center
of the core that we call her—ee eh sun,
tell her     we love her   as we pull agar
into our mouths, slice the soft meat
of each clear pearl with our teeth.

Headshot of Zhi-Ying Chua

ZY Chua is a poet based in the U.S.

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