it’s not my mom’s English that is broken

illustration of a crash register with orange flowers blooming from it
Art by Kristina Closs

With its unflinching portrait of how broken this country can be, today’s narrative poem by the Vietnamese-American poet Bao Phi rocks me at my core and reminds me of so many painful moments that I–and so many of us–have witnessed as children of immigrants.

“Frank’s Nursery and Crafts”

The lines are long and my mom insists
that the final amount is wrong.
The cashier looks at the receipt and insists that it’s right.
My mom purses her lips, looks worried,
says, it’s not right.
The line of white people behind us groans.
My mom won’t look back at them.
We both know what they’re thinking
Small woman with no knowledge of the way
things are in America.
Though year after year
she makes flowers bloom in the hood,
petals in the face of this land
that doesn’t want her here.
Finally a manager comes, checks, and tells the cashier
she rang up twenty-two plants instead of just two,
overcharging us by forty dollars.
My mother holds my hand
leads me away
without looking back
at the line of white people
who overhear
and gasp,
their sympathy won.
If only I was old enough
to tell them to keep it;
it’s not my mom’s English
that is broken.

from Thousand Star Hotel