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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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Sarah, tell me, is there anything more navel-gazing than a self-interview?

I was just wondering the same thing. If there is, I can’t imagine it.

 

Would you consider your inability to imagine it a personal failure?

One of many.

BINARYSTAR_COVERWe hug the edge of the Earth all the way to L.A. We take turns choosing the music: John, me, John, me. We always end with John.

We play a game where I name a band and he names a band that ends with the last letter of my band. We play until we come around to bands we’ve named already.

We drive in circles whenever we leave the Pacific Coast Highway, not knowing where on Earth we are.

John reads to me from the books he bought in Portland.

All sentient beings have at least one right, he says.

He lights a cigarette and opens the window. Cold salt air rushes my face.

All sentient beings have the right not to be treated as property.

Do you ever feel like property? he says.

All the time.