He came at roughly the Beaver's age, learnt our language word by word, each syllable mangled, botched, before being straightened out, finally, but some sounds would remain elusive, even towards the end, whimpers and bangs. "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out." "We're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age." "Kick ass then go home." Beneath a nuclear mushroom: "Made in America, tested in Japan." There are so many cool ones. When he tried to talk, he mumbled, "as if he had something in his mouth," which made them guffaw and shout, "Go back to China," a generic taunt I've heard more than once, of course. "You talkin' to me? Hey, I said, Are you talkin' to me?"
There was nothing he could do about his unusual eyes, nose and mouth, short of violence, but he could have changed his name to "Joe" or something, placate them a little, betray his good will. By college, he had enough Anglo-Saxon, Latinated gibberish roiling in his head to entertain the funky, desperate notion that he could become a writer, an American one. Holy sh*t, no joke, say what? Feeling queer about it, a naked impostor, he pretended to be a business major. "Do you write in Korean? Chinese? Mongolian?" At last, he'd open those lips and flash his never-seen tongue.
He could never join, only look. He was a looker only, only he wasn’t a looker. He didn't want to be looked at, actually, especially his looking eyes, which he hid behind shades. Through a digital peephole, he checked the scenery beneath tables, to examine seams, pleats, ruffles, anything tucked beneath anything else, fuzz, scars, socks, pom-poms, pores, he measured hips. True, everyone else just mostly looked also-this is, after all, a land of tireless oglers and vigilantes-but occasionally they could mesh into a resistant something or other, after a six pack, a vodka or a cognac. He shared their values, totally, only he couldn't get none, until that moment when he finally ran across the landmined border to join his peers on the other side. After this catharsis, we all got plenty to watch on TV, between the car, Coke and bullshit commercials.
Why couldn't he be like Hen Ly, or Henry Lee, one of his victims? Fresh off the boat, Henry just grinned, untied his tongue, snatched most of the awards, became a salutatorian. "Imagine sitting in class not knowing the language, now I am number two." Why couldn't he be like Bruce Lee, or Donald Trump, for that matter? Hell, why couldn't he be like Linh Dinh, who was poised enough to write these calm lines:
Well, then, if an alien object, something tiny
Even, like a grain of bullshit, is persistently
Lodged within the brain, there's nothing to do
But to shoot the motherf*cker. My eyes
Are alien to me, their defects hindering
My already dire discourse with the real,
This lake here, them privates. That's why
I must shoot the motherfuckers.
[from "Jam Alerts," Chax Press, 2007]
Judging from his plays, Cho Seung-hui never nicked his target. Judging from his acts, he was as American as, well, too many to mention. Pumping iron, cropping his hair short, flipping his black baseball cap backward, in a black T-shirt, he finally looked like he belonged, an Army of One, ready for action. Bring 'em on.