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Voices and Verses

National Poetry Month: “My First Twenty-Dollar Bill” By Addie Tsai

The Houston poet reads a poem inspired by a childhood memory.

Addie Tsai
Self-portrait by the poet
Addie Tsai


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In this sound portrait, we meet poet Addie Tsai. She talks about poetry as a therapeutic space, how she unwinds from writing and what inspires her. She reads her poem, "My First Twenty-Dollar Bill."

Addie Tsai teaches literature, creative writing, humanities and dance at Houston Community College. She has collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, and her work has been published in Banango Street, The Offing, Nat. Brut, The Collagist, The Feminist Wire and elsewhere. Tsai holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman's University. She is the Nonfiction Editor at The Grief Diaries and Senior Associate Editor in Poetry at The Flexible Persona. Her queer Asian young adult novel, Dear Twin, is forthcoming from Metonymy Press this fall.


My First Twenty-Dollar Bill

My mother, in the parking lot of Kroger weeping for the twenty she swore
she left in the pocket of her navy parka, face flushed as though from the cold,
as though she were flirting like she did with the man from the video store
who my twin accidentally saw naked, as they ran into one another
on their way to our bathroom at the same inopportune moment—
she'd never seen a penis before—and I loved that navy parka,
how I could fall into its puffiness like marshmallows, or
like the rainwater of cartoons, because it resembled permanence,
the number of times I recognized that old ratty article, again and again,
in photos covered in sheets of plastic, my big brother, tiny
and swaddled in a blanket enveloped in her squishy, blue-coated arms,
and perhaps it was this,
the memory of that jacket archived in glossy pages wrapped in cellophane
that made me vow to give her the first twenty I'd make
at a job I imagined I would have some day, one that would pay me in cash,
living in a house I also imagined I would share with her,
where she would be an every day occurrence, one where I would greet her
after a long day of work folding clothes or serving coffee in paper cups,
and I would say, Look, Ma, look what I saved for you, or just maybe
I would sneak it into that same coat pocket, for her to come upon
one day, and she would, this one time, embrace me for my memory.


This poem is reprinted with permission of the author.

Music used: Morning Passages from The Hours (excerpt) by Philip Glass/arr. Michael Riesman & Nico Mühly from The 5 Browns: In Hollywood, Fern (excerpt) by Zoë Keating from One Cello x 16: Natoma and Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt (excerpt) from Arvo Part: Alina

To learn more about this series, go here.