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.