Cathy Song, the speaker in this first person story, is an Asian American, although she has never been to China, the land from which some of her ancestors came to the United States. Married to a man whose genes resulted in their son having blond hair ("his blond hair, the part that belongs to his father"), their son envisions a Chinese heaven. Most of the poem presents the author's thoughts in reaction to that idea.
Her life is firmly established near the Rocky Mountains of North America.
Here is where we live,on the pancake plainsjust east of the Rockies
Her grandfather, however, grew up in China and migrated to the United States. His plan was to help "build the railroads for a dollar a day" and then return to China, but the return never happened. The author wonders when he came to the realization that he would not be going back to China, that he would die "dispossessed" and distant from his native land.
And yet, now his grandson is giving voice to the "notion of returning" as he stretches his hand to "span like a bridge" the distance between their home by the Rockies and China on the map, as he reaches out and looks "really hard" and imagines looking "all the way" to a Chinese heaven.