In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Kaveh Akbar is on the line.
I am the daughter of two wonderful, loving Chinese parents, and I have a supportive boyfriend and caring friends. But still, I somehow find myself dealing with daily feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. I am a humanities major with an uncertain future and less-than-average academics, and I am faced with continual feelings of shame and embarrassment about the lack of effort I put into my studies. My parents are intellectual giants who came from nothing and worked their way up into high-earning jobs so that they could give me the best possible education and life, and I feel as if I have squandered the opportunities they have worked so hard for me to have. To make things worse, they are extremely supportive of my choices, and are constantly caring and understanding. How do I deal with my fears that I will never be able to honor my parents by becoming more successful than them?
“To make things worse, they are extremely supportive of my choices” is such a strange and quintessentially immigrant utterance—I am smiling with affectionate recognition. What to do with the guilt we feel that our lives are often so much easier than the lives of our parents? How can any of our fears, anxieties, lonelinesses be worth mentioning when theirs have been so great? For you (and often, for myself), I prescribe Hai-Dang Phan’s “My Father’s ‘Norton Introduction to Literature,’ Third Edition (1981).”