He Searches for Samantha Chang and Her Pastel-Polyester Cardigan

At 30, she recounts her life, starting at 19
And loving her name, he is happy to listen
And hears about the lava lamps and
Beyond-creepy laundry room and
Her job selling old clothes at a hip boutique
Wearing a “pastel-polyester cardigan,”
Too-much eyeliner, mauve lipstick
And a “beauty-school shag with
The platinum skunk stripe”

A brilliant start, he feels, he’s all hers now
She talks breezily about old boyfriends
Dreadlocks, odd jobs and blue-tinged skin
The grimy basements and beer-drinking rock shows
Even country-road car rides with bad boys
And “pot-infused sex” in a “patchouli-scented” apartment

He imagines her house – a lime green cottage
In Key West surrounded by mango trees and date palms
From which she provides oriental massage
And writes tankas on the porch with the parrots

At 21, she tells him, she graduated from beer to vodka
And then from pot to powder at parties
In the morning it was different too, with cigarettes
And wannabe men in well-cut suits with jobs
On Wall Street or Madison Avenue – that too
He is sad to hear this but soldiers on
Hoping that some spark of the pastel perkiness
And deep-rooted Asian kindling might reignite

But the very words she chooses – wannabe men –
And the credentials she mentions are dubious

Now, she says, she is the mother of twins
In “salt-stained clogs” and T-shirts that
“smell of apple juice”
She lives in an “Upper West Side apartment”
Paid for by her very own “high-income husband”

And now he feels the weight of his hope
That felt like ether just moments earlier
Fall from the zenith of his best intentions
To the pit of his bare and hungry belly
And it lands with a deadening crash

So you see, she doesn’t say she’s done and had it all
In fact, when she sees a young girl gliding down the street
These days it makes her smile to know that she was once
That young and now writes stories about young girls
“And a China I never knew”

He wants to lecture her: This is not a great story
But an encomium of your former self,
A tapestry woven in self wonder
Without a stitch of irony – precious
Post precocious and a betrayal of your ancestry

And yet he cannot write her off
The beauty school shag and platinum skunk
Still grip him and there is something else
What is it? It’s her name – Chang
It’s the promise of black hair and eyes

And some magic that will come from that
So he Googles her name
And finds loads of stuff – articles, awards
Citations, an ivy-league pedigree
The au courant and de rigueur Chinese-American
Immigrant family – impressive and impeccable

Interviewed by some rival, middle-aged author
Who slobbers limp questions at her and lathers praise
She is sublimely unconscious or pitch-perfectly coy
The literary Lolita of his unctuous pandering

That does not help except to excite some envy
The kindling hope, the crackling fire of admiration
All fueled by the combustible name
What is left but to lift the veil and see the face?

He looks for photos and finds but one – but one
That cannot be – and yet it is, the head and shoulders
Of a tall and awkward Jewish girl
Who, he realizes, is named Samantha
And whose high-income husband is a Mr. Chang