low-key lovers

Oops, was trying to post on my fiction blog. Guess I’ll still leave this here.

We were low-key lovers, though less of a rarity in our high school than we would have been in others. She had done passionate and dramatic before, and I had, too, in my own way. For us, what mattered was the silences we could sit with, the easiness of not having any words pass between us. Some weekends we drove for hours, stopping to eat when we felt like it, or sticking to the road and stopping only for prepackaged snacks.

Most of the time we talked, thoughts about where we might end up next, or rehashing the banalities of the day, or sometimes coming up with hypotheticals and exploring possibilities that felt safe because we knew they would never come to pass. Sometimes we just listened to the radio, taking turns driving while the other person looked out the window.

Our parents didn’t suspect us, two nice girls with good grades and good track records, and solid groups of friends. They knew we shared a close bond, but that our lives didn’t revolve around one another. Nothing enough to make our families worry that we could be different, even though they knew they’d accept us no matter what. What else can you do? They’re still your child.

I had overheard that line from my mother in middle school and carried it with me for years, long before I realized how and why what she said was important to me, then later, how the sentiment still wasn’t quite enough. Not being disowned never really felt like a victory, though realizing its hollowness did.

Low-key lovers. She was the one who coined the phrase, as we rehashed the fallout of another dramatic breakup we’d witnessed in the quad that afternoon. We’d been sitting together on the low bench of a planter box, sharing a sandwich and people-watching. The girl in question was in my French class, usually fairly quiet. I was vaguely shocked to hear her yelling, and to hear her voice suddenly loud, rattling off curses in English.

We watched openly, same as everyone else. Later, after school, we drove around.

“We’re not like that, you know?”

“Hmm?”

“You and me, we’re, like, low-key. We’re low-key lovers.”

“Low-key. Yeah, I like that.” I smiled, turned the phrase over in my mind. Somehow with her it didn’t feel like a big deal, like some great identity shift or dramatic turning point in my life. I just had a friend I enjoyed being around, and sometimes — sometimes often, sometimes less so — we were lovers, but low-key.

She smiled back, turning  her head away from the road for a moment. I saw the tenderness of her smile extended to her eyes.

“I like it, too.” The smile stayed on her face as she turned back to the road. We kept on heading east.

roasted vegetables 

Goodbye, National Poetry Month! See you in another 333 days. This piece is from April 2.


at the chopping block
slicing brussels sprouts
i think about how roasting vegetables brings out their sweetness
and then about the high heat needed to forge steel

the crucible makes us sweeter, stronger,
more alive

always searching for that next line of poetry,
i think of myself
and what fires i have passed through

and i don’t regret them, of course,
but i remind myself not to glamorize them, either
the pain was real,
fresh and sharp like the nick in my thumb from the paring knife
full of heat, like the skin at the top of my knuckle
holding the memory of a recent burn

burns renew themselves this way
heat seeking heat like a body returning home to itself
when you run your hands under hot water, you remember
the hurt sprung forth from your own carelessness

a dear friend once wrote
do not destroy yourself for poetry
a much needed reminder
that being broken may lead us to art

but there is no need for us to seek out the breaking
(there is enough, always
coming our way)
it is enough for us to seek the sweetness
and to carry that taste, on the tip of our tongue
savoring this memory
for the heat that we know will come


do not destroy yourself for poetry from “the poet you need to be” by narinda heng

hipster zechariah (poem)

Image

the prophets are long gone
our fathers, too
no one remembers where
or

when our culture met this untimely demise
with sufjan crooning in our ears
we could hardly hear the sounds
of our patriarchs
singing their death rattles

just another percussive hum
indexed to my vocoder
and i on a loop
repeating the sins of someone else’s father

staggering under the weight of
this heartbreak, my life’s work

all of the examples above
of white men gazing at their navels in the sky
– except adam, who has none
where does he gather his family’s lint?
memories are a burden, too

only steeped in irony
blanched like greens, sincerely,
can we bear another cycle
nothing lives forever but
life as art as life as art as art as art

and i on a loop
repeating the sins

and i on a loop
and i on a loop

perfect things

Pasta cooked just shy of al dente, then tossed in a bright, creamy sauce with sliced mushrooms. A well-paced novel unfolding over the course of several days, its characters dancing around me like newly found friends.

Watching the sunlight melt slowly into the grass as we lounge on a picnic blanket for an entire afternoon. The curve of your collarbone, the way it draws my lips down the length of your neck.

Perfect things, all of them, but none quite so perfect in life as they are in your absence. Memories recollected now, played back through my mind as I imagine your return and our creation of new perfect things.

10-minute poem: green parrot and decaf Irish breakfast tea

household items
standing solitary around the table
placed there as we walked by
on the way to other places

now, in the cold
my fingertips tapping icily at my keyboard
i stare them down
hoping for inspiration

they are transient things
scattered starkly on a large white table
i could write this as a still life
imbue each item with meaning
or tell its true story

the bird is a whistle
a gift from a friend when she returned from the Philippines
it sounds a clear, high note
the sharp beak and carefully painted eyes are my favorite details
the shape and the colors both are comforting
it is cute,
in the way of tchotchkes and mementos
given in friendship
draped with ancillary stories

the tea is not filled with love
nor is it filled with caffeine
i brought it home after a rough grocery trip experience
during which i realized,
standing in front of an aisle of tea
that i was far too tired to be making these choices

finally i chose a box of assorted bedtime teas
and the familiar green Twinings box for the mornings
syd asked me later why i bought decaf
because everything was too hard that day
that’s why

syd’s right
this tea is gross and sad

ii.
the imaginary stories
the bird was a gift from an ex
i tried to throw it away once
but retrieved it in tears from the trash

the decaf tea
was a promise to myself
to take better care of my body
to cut out my vices
in hopes of bartering for a better night’s sleep

but both are just reminders
of all the things i have trouble forgetting
so i leave them on the table, untouched
i don’t have the heart to stow them away
nor the strength to reach out and touch them

the walrus and the lighthouse keeper

“my heart hurt like a million leagues of ocean pressing up”
- Bushra Rehman, Corona

said the lighthouse keeper to the walrus:
your skin is slicker than mine
the waves roll over you like caresses,
bathing you in salt and brine,
but never breaching through
seeping into pores

when I swim the ocean she changes me
pulls the liquid in me out through my skin
we call it osmosis, with our scientists’ tongues
our cells seek balance
and they send forth an offering of water
desperately seeking salinity

the ocean changes me, walrus
though she is vast
leagues and leagues stretching beyond
my fragile skinbag of bones
yet I seek to offer this tiny drink of water
to become a part, a piece

I want to become the ocean

do you know, my dear tusked friend
at night when you doze upon the rock
I lay awake on my boat bed
hard as the planks of my shorebound ship

dreaming of the days when she tossed me in her arms
when I rode her waves to their crescendos
enveloped, caressed, held
as she rocked me into slumber

now
keeping vigil at my table
or stalking the deck of my tower
my beam of light beckoning her other ships away
to shore

I know I am betraying her
calling other men to land, to stand on firm ground

and my heart aches inside its cage
yearning toward open water
I am a traitor
I have betrayed my lover

but some nights,
dear walrus,
on some of these nights alone
as she beats herself against my home

I feel her running down my face
and taste her salt on my lips
and remember
the ocean lives within me
I will never be alone

 

revisions

I seem to have taken to only posting before poetry shows now, since I know that organizers and event pages will be linking to my blog. I haven’t been writing a ton recently, but I do have a few poems up at well-adjusted queer kids. Also, you can see Syd’s comics, which are excellent.

Speaking of Syd, they also linked me to this article about blaming the revision process on Modernists, which I just skimmed. It is actually helping with my pre-show nerves. (As I’ve mentioned, thinking about performing makes me freak out.)

I’ve been meaning to write a post about metadata and poetry (i.e. that tagging poetry on social media allows poets to create an additional layer of meaning, relating that to poets who translate their own texts, but also all writing is a translation of personal experience, and also all reading is filtered through subjective experience, can you see how this would be a long blog post and also how this parenthetical kind of works like a tag?), but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

In the interim, here’s an excerpt from the article by Craig Fehrman:

What first got Sullivan thinking about revision was encountering a version of Ernest Hemingway she’d never seen before. While a first-year PhD student at Harvard, Sullivan visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and its Hemingway collection. She marveled at the famous author’s archive—his letters, his family scrapbooks, even his bullfighting materials. But one thing in particular stood out to her: the typescript of his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” It showed Hemingway changing his book dramatically from one version to the next. Monologues vanished, entire plot points disappeared, and, in the end, he arrived at the terse, mysterious novel that became part of the American literary canon. “The Hemingway style that’s so familiar to us wasn’t in the first draft,” Sullivan says. “It was a product of revision.”

Hemingway’s method reminded Sullivan of the way T.S. Eliot had trimmed down “The Waste Land” from pages and pages of manuscript to the final, elliptical 434-line poem. She realized that these authors shared a profound commitment to the power of revision, and that this commitment was itself worth studying. While plenty of literary scholars had examined the way individual authors edited their own works, they rarely compared their findings between authors, or from one period to the next. By making these comparisons, Sullivan identified the Modernists as the first to practice our contemporary form of revision. She also learned how revision contributed to their distinct literary technique. “We often assume that style comes out of nowhere,” she says. “But style is produced in revision, and revision is not something writers do naturally.”

tl;dr: Revision is unnatural to writers, but it’s how they produce style.

How this relates: I’ve been revising the piece “23” (read: thinking about this poem and wanting to change it) for quite some time, and I finally cut a bunch out and am going to read a much shorter poem tonight. It still doesn’t feel done, but art is a process.

untitled poem

I’m performing at UCLA for the first time tomorrow. I started writing poetry just after graduating. (More specifically, I wrote and performed one piece once in the summer of 2008, then didn’t do any other poetry things for almost two years. And then I wrote some more poems.) It’ll also be the first time I’ve gotten to attend a TN on Tour. I love the idea that we can bring the specific community magic of Tuesday Night Project into college campuses, and obviously, there is so much symbolism because it’ll be at UCLA, and I used to go to there. We also have a sweet lineup. Are you around tomorrow night? You should swing by Sunset Village.

Thanks to the Asian Pacific Coalition for inviting us. The theme, loosely, is “sisterhood.” The only piece I’ve chosen to read so far is one I wrote during National Poetry Month for a friend from the Daily Bruin.

Edit: I was about to hit publish, and I just remembered that I performed “native tongue” during the workshop I facilitated during the ITASA West Coast Conference in April. Still. Symbolism.

yes, your body betrayed you
tucked secrets within itself

secrets hidden like plastic eggs
nestled across a once-pristine landscape
secrets growing silently
fed on flesh and blood 

and the lawn is trampled now
the hunting doctors having reached with gloved hands
into each corner and quiet dark place
searching out every last prize 

will this metaphor hold?
i think it has been two days now
tomorrow will you rise again
your body wrapped in white
reborn 

will you shake off all the shadows
clothe yourself in newness
laugh with voice of golden honey
gently brush your hand against my cheek
tell me i was silly to worry
that you knew all along this was just a test
your eyes, holding sadness overcome,
will remember you had felt forsaken 

but even your scars
will have faded
will be white and new
jagged holes filled in
the covered gaps a metaphor nested in metaphor
of a tomb filled, sealed, emptied, sealed over again

panorama

panorama

sometimes, i think,
we think
about perspective shifts
as changing focus
reframing the image before us

but perhaps
we can also imagine
that the world is wider than our narrow gaze can gather in a single glance alone

instead of closing your eyes
to what is in front of you
instead of trying to forget what you have already seen

maybe you,
maybe i,
could try
to expand our views

fears and aspirations

Happy Year of the Snake! Had dinner with family and friends at my aunt’s house last night, and we ended up going in a circle around the table introducing ourselves, then each sharing one fear and one aspiration. (Yes, this happened.)

Found out that my cousin sees herself as pretty conservative; she has a fear of taking risks, because she’s a perfectionist and she wants to be able to control things. Her brother has a fear of not living life to the fullest, so he actively tries to make the most of every day. And it all comes from the same place — wanting to succeed and fearing failure, and wanting to embrace possibility. The fear I shared was being held back by fear (a meta-fear, as it were) — I’m afraid of letting fear win and not experiencing new things.

Over the past few years, I have pushed myself to embrace failure, to see that not being good at something isn’t really that scary. Sometimes, you just have to do things that are terrifying. Important life skill. Every time I go on stage, I’m scared. And every time I finish a set, I get to have that moment right after when I realize that I’m still alive. And everything is going to be OK.

I did a few shows this week. Performed “native tongue” for my co-workers at our all-staff meeting, and I started by saying, “Wow, I didn’t realize I was going to be this nervous.” After, our CFO’s wife, who was facilitating a training on self-care for that meeting, thanked us (other co-worker covered a Taylor Swift song) for sharing something and being vulnerable. And then later that day, I got to hear from co-workers who connected with the piece and have gone through similar experiences.

Thursday night was [common ground], and I performed “23.” I knew it was going to be difficult; it has taken me weeks to get it to a point where it felt done. But a few other queer artists went before me, and then we had the Partnership of LGBT Organizations speaking about being excluded from Santa Ana’s Tet parade. I ended up revising my set right before I went on to include more love poems. It felt right, and it was what I wanted to share with the audience.

23 excerpt

Saturday, we held a mini-TNC for students from the Claremont Colleges who were taking a day-long tour of Little Tokyo to talk about art and activism in our communities. The staff shared about our relationships to the space, and also our views on art. I said something along the lines of seeing poetry as a way to move beyond academic writing and to find a way to be more honest with myself. And I write love poems because I want to share a celebratory view of the queer experience. I want to celebrate love and being able to live fully, more honestly.

This feels like it’s going to be a good year. Thank you to all of the organizers and audiences who are providing spaces for people to share and heal. Here’s to a year of being honest, embracing love, and striving to take risks and push past fear. Gong xi fa cai, friends.