Third Culture by Nancy Woo

“If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

 I only know a culture by its absence, can’t grow it back, as in a petri dish. I lack an impressive immigrant story, feel like maybe I should apologize? That’s the abyss. As if I need to explain myself.

How about a new story: everything is whole as it is. Even the phantom limb: fully operational, necessary to the body. Empty space, no longer a weight but a lavish frame. Shame and abandonment no longer charged words, just words.                   I am not obsessed with the mythology of my grandmother anymore, how perhaps she wore red rouge on her cheeks, black hair in a tight bun, lips pressed to a thin grimace as she averted her eyes.             There are roads to be built here, now. So I’d rather you not ask if I speak Chinese or where my family is from. I can only say, somewhere in the vault. I don’t know the code. Would rather show you how sweet and savory this world is that I am creating.                        This good love I’ve found. How he replays a video of me dancing over and over again. The sound of drawers sliding into their wooden homes. The cat’s tail slinking around the kitchen table, a clear surface. Pens in their places. Books everywhere, how I like it. And my altar: shelf of bones, rocks to remember a walk by, feathers and sticks found and kept. A mask wrapped in snakeskin. A gift of quartz. A fat porcelain cat. Little treasures gathered from the stream of life, clean                line of morning persisting through the blinds.



Nancy Lynée Woo is a PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow and an MFA candidate at Antioch University. She was awarded the Professional Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council for Long Beach and an Idyllwild Writers Week Fellowship in 2019. She is the author of two chapbooks, Bearing the Juice of It All (Finishing Line Press, 2016) and Rampant (Sadie Girl Press, 2014). She teaches community poetry workshops called Surprise the Line, and hosts a reading series at the Long Beach Public Library called Off the Page: The Story Behind the Stanzas. Find her online at