APRIL POETRY: "A Beginner's Guide to the Chinese Language" by Adam Zhou

Curated as part of the Youth Poetry Folio for National Poetry Month
April 5, 2019

This April, to recognize and honor National Poetry Month, we curated a folio of poems by 10 Asian American high school students. This page features Adam Zhou's "A Beginner's Guide to the Chinese Language." We invite you to take a moment to read the other nine poems in this collection here.

— Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Poetry Editor

A Beginner’s Guide to the Chinese Language

Copy how the old man
scratches the calligraphy
into his palm with his dirt caked fingernails.
He writes 福 upside down
the way all the Chinese neighbors
place their lucky posters on the front door.

Once the skin starts to turn red
think to yourself that red means
joy and prosperity and fortune
and beauty and power. Not pain.

The cadence of the word rolling on your tongue
should make you conscious
of the winding movements it makes. Four
different tones form an uncomposed song
that scatters into different paths.
Make sure that the glissando does not strangle
itself upon the mocking laughter
of those who do not speak the language.

Let others start to wrap the chains
around your throat. They think
they will force out the gaunt accent.
Question if they do not see
the scarlet scales forming
into a shenlong dragon, one that spindles
through the lantern filled sky
with a tune so furiously blooming.


About this Poem:
I grew up not knowing too much about my Chinese heritage. Instead of learning the intricacies of traditional calligraphy, I saw the blur of Westernized mass media. However, upon visiting my parents’ hometown, I was fascinated by an unexplored side of my identity. My poems are a reflection of such.


This piece was published as part of the April Youth Poetry Folio. To see other works from the folio, please visit the table of contents here.


Adam Zhou

Adam Zhou has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in the National Level and his works have appeared in The Rising Phoenix Review, Blue Marble Review and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others, including a full-length manuscript forthcoming from Indolent Press. As a high school junior at the International School Manila, he has been subject to the wide array of exhibitions cultural perspectives have to offer and aims to share these through writing.