The Yellow House by Chiwan Choi

 

Choi

One part poetry, one part meditation on memory, Chiwan Choi’s third collection, The Yellow House, is a collage of captured instances, a tale of remembrances fragmented by time. A haunting, semi-hallucinatory trip through the immigrant’s perpetual no-man’s land—that zone between old home and new where people and places, love and death, happiness and sadness mingle—The Yellow House is about the struggle to belong, to reconcile the land of the past with that of the present. Seeing that reconciliation as a fundamentally impossible endeavor, the poet’s thoughts turn to forgetting one set of memories or the other, ultimately failing in this as anyone must.

Born as it is of a multitude of recollections, The Yellow House is not so cerebral as to be inaccessible. Far from it. This collection feels immediate, reads very much as the story of Choi’s life, often flirting with the mode of lyric memoir. There’s an acceptance of paradoxes here, the sort of contradictions that define everyone’s relationships with their parents. At once somehow god-like, everything to us, all parents ultimately fail us both while they are alive and in the fact that they do not live forever, leaving us assured only of our own mortality.

Choi’s parents figure prominently in these poems, many of the pieces referencing his father, more still his mother. His family having emigrated from Korea when he was very small, Choi seems constantly at cross purposes with himself, struggling to feel at home in the new land and the forgotten one, never completely achieving the sort of idyllic existence he longs for in either. There’s a glorification of both old and new homes here, and, thus, a devaluation of them as well. In this, Choi captures and rarefies the immigrant’s experience—the lure of the perfect future that never comes to pass, the love for a past made grander by the fact that it never was.

 

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Chapter Two

 

MY CELL PHONE RANG next to my head and woke me up early.  I was miserable, my head swollen with alcohol, the spot behind my eyes tender and on fire. I checked the phone.  It was a video from my sister Jenny.  She was standing sideways in front of a mirror, her stomach puffed out, completely pregnant.  My heart stopped right there in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Then she pulled out a pillow, showing me the little bump left behind, and started laughing.

What’s up with you and Nebraska?  Your new novel, The Melting Season, takes place there, but you live in Brooklyn, NY.

Have you ever been to Nebraska?  It’s kind of special.  They have an aquifer underneath the state, and really amazing thrift stores, and corn and cows and the skies look gorgeous after a summer storm. Holy shit, they have some great peaches in the summertime.  Omaha is a fun town, too, if you’re looking for a little city fun.  Oh, and the people are great: kind, and funny, and a little dry in the exact right way.  I was there for a few months four years ago and I just fell in love with it.  Enough so that I felt compelled to write a book set there.