Industry Prize Winner: Dress code for an immigration interview by Kristin Chang

We are so honored to share with you all the winning poem of our Industry Prize. Kristin Chang’s “Dress code for an immigration interview” received the highest scores from judges Don Share, Nicole Sealey, and Matthew Zapruder—a well deserved recognition for such a promising emerging poet. With the Prize, Kristin will also receive $3000 for her work.


Dress code for an immigration interview

At his deportation hearing
+++++++++++++++my uncle wears a suit & a flag
patterned tie. In detention
+++++++++++++++centers, clothing is the number one
cause of suicide: sleeves knotted
+++++++++++++++into nooses, shirts wadded down
windpipes. In a month, they’ll uncork
+++++++++++++++a shoe from my uncle’s throat.
In a month, we’ll frame a copy
+++++++++++++++of the Constitution in our living room,
pray to it like a portrait & pretend
+++++++++++++++our fathers founded a way to drink
directly from the sea. My mother folds
+++++++++++++++our laundry into letters, sends my uncle
his favorite pair of socks. We are sent back
+++++++++++++++his ashes in an envelope. We list our address
as the sea’s. In detention, three colors
+++++++++++++++are banned from the body: red, yellow, and blue.
My uncle’s favorite color is the sky. On
+++++++++++++++birdwatching trips, he took me seaside to watch gulls
abduct the air. My mother says it’s best
+++++++++++++++to wear a dress you can get out of
one-handed or with a saw. Go skinless:
+++++++++++++++at birth, we are issued a body each
to be buried in, a country to clothe
+++++++++++++++like a corpse. In a mirror-walled room
my mother is questioned for marriage
+++++++++++++++fraud. She memorizes my father’s ring size,
the birthdate of his backache, his aversion to butter
+++++++++++++++knives. She comes dressed as a housewife, fifties
hair & oven-doored eyes. My country tries me on
+++++++++++++++for size, tailors me for a funeral. At the factory,
my mother sews skirts to order, spools
+++++++++++++++thread according to thickness. My throat a sleeve
for silence. When the raids begin, officers
+++++++++++++++measure mouths according to accent. When asked for
an origin, I answer with a tongue
+++++++++++++++doubling as the dark, a shadow I wear
white. Salt bleaches the surname
+++++++++++++++off my birth certificate, my mother’s
a map of holes. I light this city
+++++++++++++++with scarlight, pray god is powered
by grief. For a week after my uncle dies,
+++++++++++++++I sew a scarf of my hair & flush it down
the toilet. In his cell, my uncle shaved
+++++++++++++++over the toilet, kept his razor & underwear
in a mattress hole. I question my blood
+++++++++++++++for proof of residency. It answers only outside
me. Under cause of death, the coroner writes self
+++++++++++++++harm, shrink-wraps our shoes as evidence.
In my uncle’s file: mugshots
+++++++++++++++he accidentally smiled for. Photos of his lungs
hours without air, the dead tissue
+++++++++++++++a dark blue, the shade of the sky he flew
in two. It was night when he immigrated
+++++++++++++++with clean clothes in his pockets & the phone
number of my mother written
+++++++++++++++on his sleeve. It was morning
when the voicemail said
+++++++++++++++he suffocated on his own spit.
We return him to the sky
+++++++++++++++as smoke. We plant him
graveside trees as reminders
+++++++++++++++to breathe. I wear my lungs upside
down, reverse every anthem
+++++++++++++++into air. Everyone I buried
into a bird.



Kristin Chang

Kristin Chang lives in NY and reads for Winter Tangerine.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Pushcart Prize, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3, The Rumpus, The Offing, wildness, and elsewhere. Her debut chapbook “Past Lives, Future Bodies” is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (October 2018).  She is located at and on Twitter (@KXinming).

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