Melody is a first-generation Asian American struggling to find her place in the mix of opposing cultures that is her life. Her first book, Each Crumbling House, is a collection of poems combining all of her feelings towards dealing with what is essentially a life in transition. Many of the poems are written through the lens of Chinese immigrants either heading off to an unknown land or newly arrived in the United States. She depicts beautifully their isolation among those whom they travel or work with. She also writes lovely poems about her own experiences, though. In the poem "In Translation," Gee tackles the issue of not always being able to properly communicate with her own mother. There isn't always a direct connotative match in Chinese for the words she would normally use in English.
I am reading out loud at the tableIn "Giving" she addresses her issues with her family's practice of always providing food for their ancestors before a meal, even if it means going hungry. Gee's writing is intensely visual, but also evocative and emotionally clear. It's an excellent first attempt from a writer who I can only imagine will continue to produce beautiful work well into the future.
where she has left ripe
ancestor offerings, reading slowly
so she will hear the texture of desire
that climbs my throat,
which I can only translate as selfish,
to want, or missing. Always
a word away from the word I need.
Each Crumbling House
by Melody S. Gee
As always, there is no real way to quantify merit in poetry. I will say this, though: I am extremely picky. The "reject" pile always towered over the acceptance pile at our SCR meetings, but Melody managed to get not just one but two poems past me (and almost a third, if I remember correctly). It's not always easy to put into words the reasons why certain poets or poems reach a person. Though it seems like Melody's work is the type that is not meant to be analyzed, anyway, but quietly accepted and understood. She reaches far enough into herself that she is able to find each one of us as well. I've never experienced the horror of having to leave my family to travel thousands of miles across the ocean and start a new life from scratch, but Each Crumbling House proves that it isn't always necessary to experience the same traumas in order to connect with someone on the most basic human levels. Very well done.