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BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V15, #22 (May 31, 2005), page 17.

"We’re not equal. We’re better."

Good Luck Gold and Other Poems

By Janet S. Wong

McElderry Books, 1994

Hardcover, 42 pages, $14.95

By Josephine Bridges

The title poem in Good Luck Gold is notable as much for what it leaves out as for what it includes. Janet Wong begins with a description of the ring, necklace, and bracelet the narrator’s grandparents gave her for good luck when she was one month old, then concludes:

I wish that gold

would work

real soon.

I need my luck

this afternoon.

Because the narrator never shares the reason she could use some good luck right away, the reader, if so inclined, can think about all the possible reasons he or she may need a little extra luck. Maybe it’s a test in a difficult subject or a delicate conversation. Regardless of the specifics, Janet Wong has never forgotten the daily bravery that youth requires.

"Waiting at the Railroad Café" is a deft interweaving of the history

of Chinese men who laid this track

never making their journeys back

but leaving milestones and signposts

to follow

and the narrator’s attempt to talk her father out of trying "to prove / the Asian race / is equal" by refusing to leave a café where the waitresses are glaring and a drunk is shouting at them. The narrator’s summing up of the situation — "We’re not equal. We’re better" — is one of those leaps of wisdom that kids surprise us with again and again if we’re lucky enough to be paying attention.

Janet Wong has a wonderful ear for the English as a foreign language that keeps this language so rich and vivid. When the narrator asks, "Why do you wear your jade, GongGong?" this is the first part of the answer:

Look. I tell you.

Old people bone

very crispy.

Break so easy.

Two provocative poems consider life from the perspective of the animals we eat. Here’s "Dinner" in its entirety:

Crowded in cages, chickens cluck:

‘Wouldn’t you rather eat roast duck?’

Catfish swimming in the fish tank sing:

‘Lobster meat is the tastiest thing!’

When we come to pick our dinner,

no one wants to be the winner.

"To Caged Birds at the Poultry Store" is the last poem in this collection, and it made me shiver as I sat in the sun. That’s what poetry’s supposed to do, I believe. The narrator commiserates with the birds who have been stepped on by bullies: "I wonder why they do it, too." But when she incites them to "Trust me, trust me; wait awhile" in their indignation at the bottom of the heap, she evokes protest songs and acts of non-violent non-cooperation and the stirring words of all our heroes who have worked for justice, truth, and freedom:

Though waiting at the bottom’s tough,

just when you have had enough

you’ll see the butcher’s hands reach in —

and trust me, you’re the ones who win.

 

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon