From The Asian Reporter, V13, #9 (February
25-March 3, 2003), page 13.
Where journeys end and begin
By Josey Foo
Kaya Press, 2003
Paperback, 56 pages, $13.95
Chinese Malaysian poet Josey Foo slipped into the U.S. as a college
student almost 20 years ago. She stayed on in New York City as an
undocumented woodworker, restaurant worker — you know the story. She
earned her Master of Fine Arts from Brown University in 1990, the same
year she got legal. Josey Foo is now a lawyer/advocate in Shiprock,
capitol of the Navajo Indian nation. It makes you want to ask her why our
government makes it so hard to do America good.
Ms. Foo’s second book, Tomie’s Chair, is inspired by artist
Tomie Arai’s 1996 mixed-media installation "Arrival." In that
exhibit, as well as in her other visual arts, Ms. Arai engages viewers in
issues of cultural identity, particularly the living history of Asian
America. The "Chair" in Ms. Foo’s book title Tomie’s
Chair is an allegory of an immigrant’s outward and inward movements.
We come to a chair from somewhere else, we go from a chair to another
place, another life, another self. Ms. Foo’s chair is where each day’s
work begins, it is also a place of rest and reflection. Tomie’s Chair
provides the infinite space around which the author makes her poetic
"I am raising my hands, clasped together, to my forehead,"
Ms. Foo says in her book’s foreword, "as I sit in the chair
pretending to already have lost belief in order to move from over here, to
In her poem "Threshold," Ms. Foo seems stalled and troubled
between an Old World and her new one, between rest and tension:
I have been finding the means to end my father’s
journey. To lie while soothed by dreams. To wish
to sit (while a place resembles otherwise).
To be able to say: "I am in the book. The book is my
world, my country, my roof, and my riddle. The book
is my breath and my rest."
The moment my father becomes a cardboard of an
ocean, to imagine: every emotion I feel is a finely
woven cloth. (maybe this is why we tell stories that
have no middles).
Ouch. What does it mean to be "in the (phone) book," if being
there amounts to the totality of your world, your country, your roof, your
riddle? And you have to wonder, even worry, about that fateful moment when
your Old World father becomes a cardboard replica of an ocean. Tomie’s
Chair is all about this kind of ambivalence and airiness. Ms. Foo is
tender and terrifying. So much movement, silent, and not at all