By Allison Hong Merrill


“The Pacific Ocean was across from your house?”

“Taroko Gorge was your backyard?”

“Lucky! You lived in paradise!”


My sons, I lived among —

Shaggy fishermen, giving neighborhood girls candy, shoving them into their bedrooms, playing doctor.

Tattoo-faced women, squatting by the brothel entrance, smoking pipes, calling out to teenage boys passing by.

Brawny husbands, gambling in the alley, scooping beer from a plastic kiddie pool, skinning a cobra, drinking its blood, brutally beating their bawling beloved.

Here —

Utah Lake before us, 
“Y” Mountain behind us.
Neighbors shovel snow on our driveway,
Weed our garden,

Visit us in hospital,
Bring us cookies, cards, casseroles.
Invite us to block parties, book clubs, school carpools.

Blessed children,
This is the place.
Paradise, people,
Paradise is other people.

Allison Hong Merrill is the author of the 2021 memoir “Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops.” A Taiwanese immigrant, Allison writes in Chinese and English. Her work has won national and international awards. Visit her at