Nebraska Trading Post, 1972
by Stephanie Han

Vivid in velvet she stands
on a wood branch disc sliced cracker thin.
A dark-skinned plastic doll,
a purple top princess in a dark flouncy skirt
edged with red rickrack.
A tiny papoose strapped to her back
matching moccasins cover toeless feet.
Fringe and beads. Bow lips and braids.
Eyes that shut when you tilt her back.

My dad hands me the doll.
I shake my head. My sister grabs it,
skips across the aisle to show my mother.
Mom said one souvenir, just one.
I do not want a doll.

I browse racks of postcards,
shelves of wooden figures in war bonnets,
twirl key chains emblazoned with canoes,
NEBRASKA, and rainbows.
I upturn ashtrays with tipis and arrows.
Trinkets with feathers and beads,
painted horses with flared nostrils
gallop across black velvet plains.
A jack knife. A toy pistol.
Absolutely not, says Mom.

There, hanging on a gold carousel
I spin for a closer look:
Sky blue beads, a necklace with an octagon
hanging low. An eagle in symmetry.
Outstretched wings, a beak in profile,
the tendrils of a red orange sun
crazy with heat — the flames curl in flowers.
A matching set: necklace, headband, and belt.

But only one!
I put the necklace over my head.
Buy it all, says Dad.
But mom says only one.
Get it all, says Dad. He smiles

My sky blue beads swing round my neck,
my cotton shorts cinched by the belt of suns,
and a crown of birds cross my forehead.
A matching set.
Where is my horse?
I’m riding bareback, my long hair flying behind me.
Bold. Brave. Free.
Gravel and dust cloud my feet.
My open prairie, a parking lot.
Mom pulls up in the kelly green station wagon.
I got three things. Dad said OK.
My sister waves the doll.

We head to the pow-wow.

A man directs us, calls to our car window:
Tribe parking?
Yes, says Dad.
The Siberian Land Bridge.
Triumphant with facts, he says:
We’re related. We’re all related.
Koreans and Indians.
Clothes, dances, drums, jewelry.
Raven hair. Flat high cheekbones.
Same-same. All look alike!
Everyone related! Americans!
We get out of the car.
I wear my beads, hold my father’s hand,
walk to the pow-wow.

We’ve missed most of it.

We will follow my father in his quest
for pasts colder than the Bering Strait,
his frozen dreams found in links between cells
that bind us from town to town.
We will watch movies and shows,
wander through museums and look for signs.
Connections. Reasons we are here.
The blue tundra of loss and belonging.
A land bridge of distance and exile.
We trudge on as migrants and outsiders.
Invent answers for ourselves.
Origins. Natives.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My mother’s family has been in Hawaii since 1904. My Korean immigrant father came to study at U.C. Berkeley in 1960. My father often spoke of the Bering Strait and the aesthetic and cultural similarities between Korean and Native American people: colors, totems, spiritual practices. We spent several childhood vacations attending pow-wows and Native American events. He always told us that we were related. The day he was mistaken for a Native American I think he felt like he finally belonged in the U.S. At the time, I remember that I thought: What is he saying? We’re Korean! He always wanted to participate in the American narrative. This particular poem is about the road trip we took from California when we moved to Iowa. This photo is taken when I was in the third grade. That fall I proudly wore my Nebraska Trading Post beadwork as much as I could. I felt my difference in Iowa. I too wanted to belong.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie Han is a fourth-generation Korean American who now lives in rural Hong Kong. She has won literary awards from the South China Morning Post, Nimrod International Literary Journal, and the Santa Fe Writer’s Project. She received two grants from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, was a PEN West fellow, and is the very first Ph.D. graduate in English literature from the City University of Hong Kong (2014). Her poetry, prose, and nonfiction appear in numerous journals and anthologies. She has recently completed a collection of poetry Passing in the Middle Kingdom. Visit her at