The Leaf Book
In the fall of third grade, when my teacher
assigns the leaf-book project—collect
and name at least a dozen tree leaves—
my dad drives our family to an arboretum,
he brings a field guide and we’re all leaf-picking,
all saying gingko, chestnut, walnut, buckeye.
Mama writes down American names,
learns too that rootbeer-scented sassafras bear
three kinds of leaves: mittens, gloves, and palms.
The night before my book’s due, he stays up.
He helps sort leaf after leaf, irons them
between waxpaper pages he’s cut.
By the circular light of a lamp
he grows younger and I grow older,
typing labels, tracing diagrams.
Does he know that my teacher will show
my book to the class? that I’m looked at
enough, the one mixed kid? They’ll stare
like they stared when I was called from class
to be tested for the “gifted program.”
I rose from my chair, carrying the too-big,
man’s leather briefcase he’d loaned to me
for good luck. But like the kids’ snickers
it only bruised, confused me. The test did too:
Can you name three things made of aluminum? No.
How tall is the average man? I answered
with all I knew, my own height, Four feet tall.
When I told my dad I’d failed, he called
my principal: “Your test is wrong,” he said,
“This is your regional spelling champ,
honor roll student, first chair in band.”
He listed bell choir, softball, swim team,
even states and countries I’d seen. But I have
to try harder, I have the wrong kinds of love:
scarlet oak, white oak, black oak, laurel and pin,
memorized by size and color, lobe and vein.
* Poems first published in The Asian American Literary Review, Issue 1. AALR is a not-for-profit literary arts journal, a showcase of the best of today’s Asian American literature. To learn more about the journal or purchase a subscription, visit them online at www.asianamericanliteraryreview.org, or find them on Facebook.
**Photographs courtesy of the author.