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Homeward Bound

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

By Ariana Lee

For Tai Nai Nai

My Tai Nai Nai had a premonition that I would be

a dancer. It happened in a flash, like the white-hot flash

of too-hot water. Her feet burned, having been soaked

in an herbal bath so that they would be malleable.

She didn’t complain because she was a girl. Four

or seven or twelve. Too young. Blacking out from

pain as her feet were broken into crescent moons

and bound tightly. She understood that this was being

a woman. She understood because of her mother. She

understood she was to be a mother. That bound feet

would help her to be a mother. The spots in her vision

danced like butterflies. Tai Nai Nai grew into stillness.

The intentional disabling of her feet made her dependent

on her husband. Sometimes, she thought this life was death.

A coffin for her, a separate one for her feet. Pink coffins

on my own feet two mothers later, my toes pointed

into crescent moons, ribbons tucked neatly. She knew

I would be a dancer. I wish I could tell Tai Nai Nai

that the coffins around her great-granddaughter’s feet

are there by choice, that they’re called pointe shoes.

Not a pain, but a passion. I wish to fly backwards in time.

Arriving with the grace of a monarch butterfly, I’d dance

for her. She will say why did you come as a monarch.

I will say their migration is one of the greatest

natural spectacles, that millions of them fly, that the journey

is so long no single butterfly makes the northward trip

home. Instead, it is the great-grandchildren that hatched

in Mexico who return. I want her to understand what

I’m really saying. She will ask what is Mexico. I will

laugh. I will try to explain the border, all borders, and then

immigrants, like her descendants will become.

Tai Nai Nai knew I would be a dancer—tell me about

the dances, she will say. Tell me about this ballet. So

I’m bound to talk about Madame Butterfly. A famous

ballet about my country and the Japanese. And Tai Nai Nai

does not yet know the entirety of what will happen between

her country and the Japanese. The ballet ends with Madame

killing herself, cutting her bloodline. Tai Nai Nai is horrified.

But don’t worry. Look at your great-granddaughter, our family’s

uncut blood, my unbound feet. Look who found her way home.


Ariana Lee (she/her/她) serves as the 2022-2023 Houston Youth Poet Laureate and is a member of Meta-Four Houston, the city’s official youth slam poetry team. Recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation, she combines her passion for arts and activism as a Youth Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival. She believes poetry is necessary for forward movement, and her work celebrates overlooked, undervalued, and forgotten stories. Find her on Instagram (@ari.purplecrayon), Twitter (@aripurplecrayon), or Youtube.

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