Letter to my parents in Burma

Letter to my parents in Burma

Salam Baba and Amar!
How is the military government treating you?
Are they still trying to kill my activist friends?
Are they still looking for me?
Does the sound of gunshots at 2am still frighten you?
Or are they now just background noise?
(Like the music from my brother’s computer.)
Are you still having nightmares, Amar?
Is everyone safe?
If you need me,
I’m only an ocean away.
(Please let me know.)

I’m okay. Don’t worry.
Those green ghosts can’t haunt me anymore.
Here in America, I don’t have to hide.
I only have to worry about employability.

Here, things are going back to normal.
Americans still can’t pronounce my name
and I’ve made peace with it.
I’ve discussed passive income with
my classmates in fancy bars.
I have learned to walk past homeless people
and not feel responsible.
I have become an individual.
I’ve learned to say, ‘How are you?’
and not mean it.
I have picked up on American idioms
and laughed at the idiocies of American society.
I no longer ask them
to slow down when they speak.
I now understand almost everything they say.

I am now calling football ‘soccer’.
I have learned how to ask girls out on dates
and had my heart broken on the bench
of my favorite park. I now know the best
places to have ‘brunch’. I now say ‘eww’
with a matching facial expression.
I now meditate.

(Don’t worry. I won’t become a Buddhist monk.)
I have learned to punctuate my
depression without therapy.
I now go to the gym.
I now breathe—

I now know the struggle of an immigrant.
I hate antidepressants and I’ve had them.
You would love Christmas here.
It’s beautiful, but my insomnia
always takes me back to Burma.
Every thanksgiving, I have a friend
whom I always visit and she’d always tell me,
‘You have an open invitation
to our house anytime, you know.’
I know she genuinely meant it
because she didn’t say it
in a superficial American way.
Being receptive to love is a new skill
I’m now learning to acquire.

Remember that time we all cried for weeks
when our beloved Pluto was killed?
I am planning to get a tattoo of him on my left ribs.
(I know you hate tattoos,
but I know you loved Pluto.
So please forgive me.)
I don’t miss Burma
but I miss our family dinners
and my sister’s joy.

Next time we speak on the phone,
instead of how many times I’ve prayed,
can we talk about my poems, Amar?
Would you be happy for me?

Do stars still sparkle in your eyes
when you talk about me, Baba?
(‘My son is very smart, you know…’)
Do you still have the American Dream?
Can we go back to the time when you
carried five-year-old me on your shoulders
at your favorite concerts?

Next time we meet
I’ll hold you tight in my arms and
tell you how much you mean to me.
But for now, I’ll reply to your messages
with smiley cat emojis.
And love-react to all the pictures
you send me of cats you rescued
from the streets.

I miss you
from my petite and overpriced
(but very safe) bedroom in America.

Your eldest son,
Than Toe Aung

Washington, DC
December 4, 2022

Than Toe Aung is a Burmese Muslim poet and writer living in exile. He started a poetry movement in his hometown Yangon in 2016 and his activism has focused on ethnic and religious minority rights, democratic values and free expression. He has studied comparative politics at Yangon School of Political Science, gender and sexuality at Central European University, and sociology at George Washington University.

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