How is lineage influenced by immigration, culture, and language? In what ways do expectations, ideas, and acts of inheritance consume us? In Each Crumbling House, Gee asks about inheriting a language that isn’t hers and a culture that died during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, while she tangles with the loss of her mother’s culture, food, history, and home. Written with precision of line, image, and syntax, these restrained lyric poems invite and reward the reader with their grace, and stand out for their historical and emotional interweaving.
After the rain, trees burn with monarchs,
come this winter on dust-and-paper bodies.
Some of the dead cling to trash on the road,
frames of wings like frames of broken windows.
You say you never saw anything like them
in China, though you cannot say for sure.
As a girl, you leashed crickets with ox hairs
and baited bees with sweet tomato flesh.
But nothing like this, you say, like this orange.
This monarch generation lives three times
longer than its parents, than it would without
a migration to complete. They are given
time to break their bodies over mountains
and heave themselves onto warm trees
so they all might survive. Are you wondering
how much more time you have been given
to learn a language and forget a language, to break
your body over an ocean for this pale
redwood dusk and this daughter?
I know you were not drawn here to save
yourself. I cannot tell you that I have
nothing to save, nothing that waits for me
to be drawn, nothing that says, you must,
you must break your wings for this.
“Melody Gee proves to us through her poetry that first-generation Asian American experiences still matter and will always matter. But even more so, her quietly unsettling and powerful book speaks to the whole human experience through its exploration of inheritance. These are haunting poems about culture, nature, and ultimately about love.” —Victoria Chang
“The poet’s specificity and unique arsenal of imagery make each relayed experience seem exceptional, but Each Crumbling House is as universal as it is particular. Through these restrained lyrics, Gee discusses how so many lives are marked by leaving, missing, and a hunger for the past and the unknown.” —storySouth
“Melody writes to share an experience not block you from it. She is accessible, smart and has some of the loveliest openings lines ever.” —Kelli Russell Agodon, Book Harvest
“Gee reaches far enough into herself that she is able to find each one of us as well.” —Brian McGackin, The Daily Genoshan
“The speaking of the truth carries the power that lesser poets would try to reap through anger. Gee understands that anger could upend the very power she is striving to express, and she strikes hard.” —Kenny Tanemura, Sycamore Review
“Each Crumbling House is a rich collection, with a complex but consistent vision. Gee’s work will appeal to anyone interested in the politics and poetics of intercultural exchange.” —Noel Sloboda, New Pages
“Gee has an amazing way of interweaving time and place in a way that is both intimate and disorienting.” —North Dakota Quarterly
“Melody Gee’s Each Crumbling House is a tale of return not marked by triumph, but of a palpable absence. The poems’ speakers ‘count arrows of exiled/geese’ to know not only what it is to feel cold, but what it is to leave home. There is comfort here, too: in the spaces of longing, an understanding is reached upon the return to homeland. While the speakers are reaching for ways to name the pain of lost histories and lost relatives, ‘always/a word away from the word,’ Melody Gee’s poems are full of the right words, folding and unfolding the way wings do from the clusters of Monarch butterflies wintering in the pines, huddling together for warmth.” —Oliver de la Paz