“Color Swatch 0945: Treasure Seeker” is a cento poem made up of line fragments from poems by these writers: Vo Hong Chuong-Dai, Connie Pham, Julie Thi Underhill, Azizah Ahmad, Pimone Triplett, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Emily P. Lawsin, Leakhena Leng, Karen Llagas. These authors’ works can be found in Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Literature and Art by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora, edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, and Kathy Nguyen. Troubling Borders was first published in 2014 and reissued in paperback in 2020; it received the 2014 Choice Outstanding Academic Title and Bronze Book Award 2015 from the Association for Borderlands Studies, and was featured on NBC News as one of the six Asian-American memoirs to Read for Women’s History Month. Isabelle Thuy Pelaud is also the co-founder and executive director of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network. Isabelle and Lan Duong are members, with Dao Strom, of She Who Has No Master(s), DVAN’s collective project of Vietnamese women and nonbinary writers of the diaspora.
COLOR SWATCH 0945: TREASURE SEEKER
staining the edges
_____of humanity and
Each of the girls wears a number
This is a scream, not a shout-out,
We are Evidence. Evidence of truth. Evidence of strength. Evidence of
____the country. Waxed
You are still my enemy, Asian America, you are my enemy
I am from
“Color Swatch 0945” is a shade of yellow. The name given to this hue (by some color palette designer or other) was “Treasure Seeker”. I pulled this color swatch in a poetry-writing exercise, to create a cento in response to a color. The connotations associated with the color yellow, especially for people who reside inside Asian skins, are many and charged, of course. I reached for a volume on my bookshelf, a book with a bright shade of yellow on its spine and cover. Troubling Borders is an anthology that, as its title suggests, explores both the act of, and status of being subject to conditions that are, “troubling”—it is a word we may read as either verb or adjective. This double-meaning suggests that borders can trouble us, for how they seek to contain or shut us out; and/or, we can invert the phrase and turn our own actions, and beings, onto the borders, thus disrupting those lines and expectations we have been expected to simply abide by. A cento is a poem made up of lines from other sources, (from the Latin word for “patchwork”), a collage poem. In the definition of cento on poets.org, it is “a poetic form composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets”, with early examples found in the work of Homer and Virgil, and modern examples cited as being “often witty, creating irony or humor from the juxtaposition of images and ideas.” In my cento the lines are drawn all from one source, culling from the voices of Southeast Asian diasporic women writers who are “troubling” the borders that have troubled them/us: borders of skin, nation, identities, culture, history, politics, and assumptions—so deeply embedded they are often not registered as ‘real’—about the “yellow”-ed body.
Anne Anlin Cheng writes, in Ornamentalism: “I suggest that the critical impoverishment surrounding the WOC is particularly concentrated for the yellow woman, whose fraught access to the complicated ‘privilege’ of injury demands a different kind of attention … Given the extensive, historic discrimination leveled at the yellow woman, it is startling how the bulk of femininst theory… has overlooked this figure beyond granting it its nominal pathology. I use the term ‘yellow woman’, rather than ‘Asian woman in the West’ or ‘Asian American woman’, because these more ameliorative, politically acceptable terms do not conjure the queasiness of this inescapably racialized and gendered figure. I am not so much interested in recuperating ‘yellowness’ as a gesture of political defiance as I am intent on grasping the genuine dilemma of its political exception. What does it mean to survive as someone too aestheticized to suffer injury but so aestheticized that she invites inury? … This figure is so suffused with representation that she is invisible…”
What does it mean, to survive? To be “too” aestheticized? To be considered exempt from injury (harmless, invisible, dispensable), yet at the same time to invite injury—due to the object one’s body supposedly represents?
The voices I draw together in this small act of poetic collaging are voices that have wrestled against conditions of invisibility and yellowness for the entirety of their existences as diasporic beings. The word “invisibility” is key to the predicament of Asian Americans at large at this time, as it has been all along, even if it is surfacing only now—after (finally??) *visible* tragedies—in the national dialogues about race. Asian American women suffer this invisibility in ways also particularized by gender, sexualization, misogyny, etc. When we name a thing as invisible, however, we are also naming that we know it is there. The visible is contained, indelibly, within that which we are insisting is invisible. But our voices, bodies, lived experiences, have been and continue to be absolutely present, very much here, even as we configure and at times condemn what “here” means for each of us.
Dao Strom is the author of the poetry collection, Instrument (Fonograf Editions, 2020), and its musical companion piece, Traveler’s Ode (Antiquated Future Records, 2020). Her other works include You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People, The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys, and Grass Roof, Tin Roof; and a song-cycle, East/West. She is the co-founder and creative director of the collective project, She Who Has No Master(s). www.daostrom.com