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Introduction It is very common in the United States when meeting a new person to ask them “Where are you from originally?” In her poem “Peaches,” Adrienne Su, a Chinese American who grew up in the state of Georgia, sheds light on the complexity of answering that question when you are both “stranger and native.” This poem reflects upon the complex identities many Americans grapple with—a critical factor to consider as our nation continues to evolve into a twenty-first-century American community characterized by wide diversity.
Read the following poem and write down words, phrases, or word placement that you noticed or think she intended to make emphasis on when reading it. Give a brief statement [in the comment section below] on why you think she emphasized these words or why you feel as if they should be emphasized.
A crate of peaches straight from the farm
has to be maintained, or eaten in days.
Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,
I never saw the mess that punishes delay.
I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,
stored it in the coolest part of the house,
then devoured it before any could rot.
I'm from the Peach State, and to those
who ask "But where are you from originally,"
I'd like to reply "The homeland of the peach,"
but I'm too nice, and they might not look it up.
In truth, the reason we bought so much
did have to do with being Chinese---at least
Chinese in that part of America, both strangers
and native on a lonely, beautiful street
where food came in stackable containers
and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive
to the source, where the same money landed
a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.
You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded
by land enough to grow your own, if lawns
hadn't been required. At home I loved to stare
into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains
of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate,
mysterious packets brought by house guests
from New York Chinatown, to be transformed
by heat, force, and my mother's patient effort
enough to keep us fed through flood or storm
provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice
could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,
but so was everything else my parents did.
Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids,
who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,
to become typical immigrants' children,
taller than their parents and unaware of hunger
except when asked the odd, perplexing question.
Vocabulary to Define Stanza Rhyme scheme Slant rhyme Volta
Questions for Discussion Describe the ways peaches relate to being Chinese in Adrienne Su’s home. Can a rhyme scheme be identified within each four line stanza? The last two stanzas in the poem seem to focus on something other than food and home. What is it?
How does Su describe “typical immigrants’ children?” Based on your own life experiences, or another’s life experience, do you agree with this description? What does Su mean by “the odd perplexing question?”