What would be an image for the meaning of the poem "Heaven" by Cathy Song?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“Heaven” by Cathy Song epitomizes the disconnection that some second and third generation immigrant people feel toward their ancestral homes.  The poet as the narrator talks to her blonde son about his great-grandfather’s home: China. Humorously, the little boy’s  idea of Heaven then becomes going to China.

Displeased with her present home, when she looks at the map showing China, she see a beautiful flower…when she looks at the map of Colorado, she sees a black dot.  Her description of the place that she lives now includes cold winds; broken fences; and fistfights in her alley.  A clear line can be drawn between the imagery of China and the narrator’s peception of her current situation.

Symbolically, the narrator has two connections to China: the map and the railroad track near her home that her immigrant great-grandfather helped to build.  She feels drawn to China through some ancient blood line. The story of her grandfather who had dreams of making his fortune and returning home to China breathes an element of nostalgia to the poem.  His unmarked grave indicates how hard he must have worked for $1.00 a day pay.   

Dreaming of returning to China occupies the thoughts of the poet as she often sits alone on one  particular spot and romantically thinks of it. Her son is a dreamer as well.

His hand must span like a bridge

To reach it [China].

An octave away.

The clever image of the boy spreading his hand apart trying to bridge the long gap between the Rocky Mountains and China brings a smile to the reader.  The final image uses the imaginative expression of laundry on the lines and the shirts blowing in the wind like the sails on the boat that might take the poet and her son all the way back to their oriental beginnings.

The images that would be especially meaningful for the poem might represent their dream of China: the map, the beautiful blue flower, the boy’s hand spread to bridge the distance between his home and China.

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