getting to the other side 

A year ago, I channeled rage and grief into a blog post called “discussing white supremacy at the dinner table,” which is basically a bunch of links to articles breaking down white privilege, anti-Black racism, and tactics for navigating conversations about race and how to get by some common derailing tactics.

Writing that post and trying to put it into action over the past year has been part of a constant process of unlearning and relearning. As a non-Black person raised in a country founded on white supremacy, I know I have so much more unpacking and unlearning to do. I say this as someone who for decades wanted to run for office, as someone who believed in American exceptionalism and meritocracy and equality of opportunity, as someone who has benefitted from the model minority myth (to the extent that East Asians are most privileged from the ways our diasporas are consolidated into one monolith) and by extension, from my complicity in anti-Blackness.

My identities as a queer and genderqueer non-Black person of color and child of immigrants don’t exempt me from my class privilege or relative race privilege or from benefitting from anti-Blackness.

Saturday Night Live recently created a digital short called “A Thanksgiving Miracle” that is being hailed as a perfect solution to racist and/or otherwise problematic dinner conversation — play Adele’s “Hello,” and magically shut down the conversation as everyone starts singing. (Full disclosure, I think this song is very overrated and kind of boring, sorry.)


Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 5.10.27 PM

(This is a screencap, not an embedded video. Image shows a group of mostly white people sitting around a table full of Thanksgiving food. A white woman seated next to a young white child points an accusing finger at a Black man, the only person of color present.)

(This article recaps the video.) On the surface, I get why this is supposed to be funny. It worked well when they did a similar sketch with everyone crying to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” but as a card-carrying SJW I am duty-bound to tell you your fave is problematic. Even setting aside my many other critiques about this skit for a moment,* this video annoys me because a bunch of cisgender white people ignoring oppressive statements with karaoke does nothing to fix anything.

Ok, so maybe Thanksgiving dinner is not the time when you’re going to your racist Aunt Sally/Zhang Ahyi. And often, Thanksgiving is already a traumatic experience. As I said last year, Thanksgiving is a hard time for a lot of reasons — how do indigenous folks commemorate a holiday that literally celebrates the attempted genocide of their people? For queer and trans folks who have been cut off from their families, what table do we sit down around? For folks who don’t have access to class privilege or the ability to support themselves financially or other systems of support, being cut off from family is dangerous and violent.

That may be the case for you, and I am not here to make judgment statements on what your activism should look like or how you approach social justice, but my point is that letting these comments go unchecked is a choice, and when you are not a member of the oppressed group being targeted, being able to turn away from these conversations is a privilege.

It’s hard enough to go into these dinners, but it helps to think through these conversations ahead of time. Some guiding questions:

  • What are my stakes in this conversation? What comments am I not going to let go by unchecked?
  • What are the consequences of letting those comments slide? (Are there youth present who will hear and internalize these comments, without seeing anyone offer a counter narrative? Will you regret not having said anything to defend your friends, loved ones, chosen family, whether or not they were present?)
  • What topics are likely to come up, and is it possible to plant a seed of noting your discomfort, so that you can have a follow-up conversation later?

And let’s face it. Fighting for our liberation is not just about saying the right things — reductionist critiques of political correctness focus on this idea that SJWs are saying some words are bad and can never be used. It’s not just the words — finding different words to say the same harmful things and uphold the same systems of oppression is nothing new. (See, for example, the use of “thug.”)

This work is about changing people’s perspectives and shifting things for long-term change. For folks who are giving themselves an ally label, do the work at home. We can’t just dismiss people because they’re old or they’ve always been that way; things “always being that way” is what has brought us to the present day.

hello from the other siiiiide

I must have tried a thousand times
to tell you that’s racist, everything that you’ve said
but when I comment you never seem to take accountability for your facebook posts

Think about what it means to turn away. We are not on the other side of this. As Shaun King laid out, “more unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.” Armed white supremacists in bulletproof vests fired upon peaceful protestors in Minneapolis, and then walked away from a crowd full of police. The KKK has been openly recruiting in Portland and surrounding cities, where police also put up a billboard saying “Having enough police matters,” directly across from a church that has been displaying a #BlackLivesMatter banner. Shooting an unarmed Black person doesn’t lead to jail time, but protesting these murders by police does. Police have literally been targetting and arresting Black organizers who are leading protests and direct actions. 

Across the country (and in other nations), Black organizers are drawing attention to the open war on Black folks in this country.

Having “a conversation about race” is not enough, by far. But right now, we as non-Black folks, need to take on the labor of these conversations in our own communities, with our own families.

* Specifically, this is a perfect example of casual racism and transphobia, in that “progressive” cisgender (mostly) white folks get to make racist and transphobic statements (which the video also reifies by drawing on drag tropes which are often if not always transmisogynistic) for laughs. See where the laughs come in, and see also Dave Chappelle’s comments on taking a break from “Chappelle Show” after hearing a white person’s laughter at “the wrong moment.” (I have many thoughts about comedy and the limits of its usefulness.)

read more books by people of color

Oops, I started this blog post 9 months ago. (I started writing on a lunch break and realized I could export my GoodReads data, and then I spent the rest of my break formatting and analyzing data. ~little nerd things~) In the interest of the “open-source” part of open-source mind, this is what the post outline looked like: 

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 7.02.23 PM

Near the end of 2014, I decided to read 50 books of people of color in 2015, partly inspired by Victoria Law’s post “I Read 50 Books By People of Color This Year.” (“Parly inspired” as in, I read the headline on a few people’s news feeds, thought “huh, yeah, I should do that,” and then didn’t click through to the article until months later, when I started writing this blog post. Victoria’s post includes a long list of recommendations, yay! And also, Victoria is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, which is on my to-read list, so yay again!)

Here are some numbers from my past reading challenges:

omg i love data

2015 data current as of Monday, Sept. 21.*

Background on reading challenges:
In 2013, I decided I wanted to read 50 books, but I didn’t set that number until December, so I read 7 books that month, including 4 books on Dec. 30 and 31. (I was literally late for a New Year’s Eve party; I left my apartment late with a chunk of book I figured I could finish at the bus stop/on the bus, and ended up reading the last few pages under a streetlight outside of my friend’s building.) Also, speeding through The Time Machine because it was already on my Kindle and I could tell it was short seemed kind of not in the spirit of a reading challenge.

In 2014, I raised the goal to 60, and then was funderemployed, so I had time to read a lot. You can also tell from the numbers that about halfway through the year I semi-intentionally started reading more books by BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color). A huge factor in that shift was living in Portland and feeling surrounded by whiteness, and also being more intentional about carving out space and time to be in community with QTPOC and wanting my personal time to reflect that commitment, too.

But even thinking about last year’s reading compared to this year’s, when I have a more ambitious goal of reading 50 books by BIPOC writers, I can tell that there’s a huge difference. Not only am I intentionally seeking out authors of color, I’ve also tabled reading books by white authors because I was behind on my reading challenge. It’s also, incidentally, made it more jarring when I’ve made exceptions to read books by white authors. I read Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip in May, and wanted to love it, but the race analysis throughout her text often felt inauthentic and/or tacked on and/or appropriative, in an aspirationally intersectional feminist way.**

I am bored of writing this blog post, and I keep not finishing posts (the last thing I published was last November), so the rest of this post will be bullet points.

  • Here’s my “authors of color” bookshelf on GoodReads. Here’s a bookshelf based on Facebook friends’ recommendations (it unfortunately doesn’t include books that were recommended that I’ve already read because they are already on other shelves and I’m not feeling that ambitious/generous at the moment.)
  • Reading nonfiction by authors of color was incredibly refreshing, and I was surprised how much of a difference it made. It is really, really nice not to be racially microaggressed or erased and invisibilized in the middle of a chunk of otherwise great analysis. It’s also pushed me to read nonfiction that has been languishing on my “To Read’ shelf for a long time.
    • Some of my faves:
      • Redefining Realness, Janet Mock
      • The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, Grace Lee Boggs
      • Assata, Assata Shakur
      • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo (I would have been very stfu if this book was written by a white person)
      • Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawaii, Ed. Candace Fujikane (technically read last December)
      • The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Alexander (I will love this book more when Alexander finally decides that she is a prison abolitionist and releases a second edition editing out some of her more reform-minded passages)
  • I’ve read everything Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has published and am sad.*** More sad: Realizing there are a finite number of Octavia Butler works and that I have to pace myself because I can only read her books for the first time once. (In related news, I pre-ordered Octavia’s Brood, and have been hoarding it to read on a special occasion.)
  • Things I love about libraries:
    • Did you know you can freeze holds? If you’re going out of town or behind on reading, you can suspend your book holds so they don’t come up when you’re not ready to read them!
    • If you have a library card, you can check out ebooks even when you’re not in the city. (I prefer paper books, but the Kindle is light and my brother bought it for me, and it’s nice to be able to preload a bunch of stuff instead of taking 9 books on a week-long trip.)
    • Theoretically, if you always manually downloaded your ebooks and kept your Kindle on wifi mode, your Kindle would not know to automatically return your library ebooks after the three week checkout period.
  • For a while, I considered doing a “rereading the canon” project and revisiting and critiquing books that I’d loved when I was younger, but so far that has just made me sad. (i.e. Being more aware of the colonialism, imperialism, and racism in Cat’s Cradle, rereading the passage in Fahrenheit 451 where Ray Bradbury calls “political correctness” the root of censorship.) Of course, it’s also nice to reread things and be able to recognize my own growth and evolution; and I also think it’s important and valuable to have a concrete understanding of how and where I’ve internalized problematic and or toxic messages, and to reflect on how my perspective has shifted and how I need to intentionally and consciously unlearn internalized oppression. Maybe this line of thought will grow into its own blog post.
  • I’ve also been thinking a lot about how writers who are not in oppressed groups can be better about writing diversity. I appreciate the work of We Need Diverse Books (and that they include disabled and queer characters as part of their definitions of diversity instead of solely focusing on race), but I also wish they were more critical and pushed back a little harder on problematic representations of diversity. There’s been a really awful trope (always, really, buy also it seems to be gaining popularity?) of cis writers revealing characters’ trans identity as a surprise plot twist, and it’s really, really gross and lazy to have that be the explanation of someone’s entire pathos. Or look at the anti-Blackness in Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians. Or male writers in general sometimes forgetting that women are people.
    • Roxane Gay spoke at UCLA on Monday (I literally left work in the middle of the afternoon, but I was still late, so my live tweets are mostly of her Q&A), and one of the many fantastic things she said was “Don’t be lazy when writing difference. … People who get excoriated for writing difference poorly don’t have good intentions.” That seems like a great starting place.
    • I have many, many more thoughts about the politics and burdens of representation and the importance of intersectional feminist analysis and also ~art~ and “censorship” and etc., etc. For now, I will say that reading writers of color obviously doesn’t eliminate the potential for problematic or oppressive writing, but being intentional about curating what I choose to read has let me enjoy reading time a lot more.

This is blog post length now, right? I will live you with some other faves from the last two years;

  • Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler — I’ve heard this described several times as “if The Hunger Games acknowledged that POC exist” and also if the writing and political analysis included an understanding of racism and intersecting systems of oppression, plus it’s based on post-apocalyptic LA and then the road up to Portland
  • On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee — future Baltimore, with race and class and science and community engineering
  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — hence reading everything she’s written; the intertextuality of the narrator’s blog posts is fucking brilliant, and also the way she talks about race and also there are hilarious moments
  • Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin — owned for years, read in preparation for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I started today, thank you LA Public Library! I did not have to wait as long as I thought I would.
  • Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, Sara Farizan — technically I gave this book a 3, but it is melodramatic queer YA featuring an awkward fat Persian high school girl, and it was very rewarding to read
  • Ash, Malinda Lo — a queer YA retelling of Cinderella! And it’s dark! Some passages are brilliant, and I loved the feel and pacing
  • The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich — intergenerational Ojibwe family narrative with multiple kinds of storytelling woven in
  • The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri — Interpreter of Maladies is still my favorite, but have I mentioned that I love multigenerational interwoven family narratives? (see also Zadie Smith’s White Teeth)
  • Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie — see note on anti-Blackness above, and also I think some of Alexie’s writing is misogynistic, so this is with a big asterisk, but “Flight Patterns” and “Can I Get a Witness?” are two of the best post-9/11 short stories I’ve read.
  • Other short story collections: Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Yiyun Li; Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the Vona/Voices Writing Workshop; A Good Fall, Ha Jin
  • Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay — <3 and now I have a signed copy!
  • chapbooks: Narinda Heng‘s what is precious and Tk Le’s The Labor of Longing (it’s not out yet but will be soon, and you will be amazed and cry many tears)

* Technically it’s current as of today, because I just started a new book on the bus ride home and have only read 22 pages. (I put a footnote in a caption just because I could.)

** (I had the same critique for how she addressed neurodivergence, though I feel less comfortable making that argument as an able-bodied person.) Also, the appendices include great resources.

*** Shout out to Beyoncé for making the waiting list for all of her books exponentially longer.

Discussing white supremacy at the dinner table

I will keep this intro brief. My intention for this post is to share resources for white and non-black folks who are interested in having conversations about dismantling white supremacy and anti-black racism. I will primarily be linking to black authors, with some exceptions as appropriate (e.g. people explaining how their experiences of class/race-based oppression doesn’t negate their complicity in/ability to benefit from anti-blackness).

Context (feel free to skip):

I flew home to San Jose on Monday and landed just as Bob McCulloch was beginning his nonsense. I realized I’ve been having a hard time navigating in-person conversations with family and 長輩 (zhǎng bèi, elders) about Ferguson, white supremacy, and anti-blackness.

I originally wrote this: “There are a ton of links circulating on Facebook right now. Information is available. Please do your part in actively seeking out media that has already been created, instead of putting the burden on people of color to explain it to you.” (n.b. In general, yes, if you want to be an ally, put in the work. I don’t think POC owe it to white folks to explain racism, and I don’t think black folks owe it to non-black folks to explain anti-blackness or how to dismantle whiteness. However, I have some time and have been doing some light reading lately, so here is a resource post.)

tl;dr It’s not black people’s responsibility to educate people on white supremacy. It’s hard to confront elders/family/ourselves about racism. I thought a study guide/cheat sheet might help.


  • anti-blackness/anti-black racism — racism specifically targeting black people, including within POC and inter-ethnic communities (see also: “Riding with Death: Defining Anti-Blackness” by Nicholas Brady)
  • microaggression — a brief exchange that dehumanizes a member of an oppressed group; intent is irrelevant. Think about a bunch of strangers, friends, classmates, etc. all flicking you in the same spot on your arm, several times a day. Each individual flick may not cause harm or hurt at first, but over time, you’ll develop a bruise in that spot, and each ensuing flick will bring out that same pain. (People also commonly use the example of Chinese water torture, but I have also seen people use that metaphor in a racist way, so … )
  • POC — people of color, non-white people (btw, people self-identifying as POC does not give you permission to use the expression “colored people”)
  • white supremacy — “White supremacy is a low-level assumption about characteristics that white people allegedly have which transforms inequality between them and everyone else into something natural. It often masks itself as fairness and goes unquestioned as a result.” (H/T Imara Jones, here)

Breaking down white privilege

Resources for non-black POC

  • Understand that there is a time and place for using the “people of color” umbrella. (Now is not one of them.) Yes, other communities of color experience racism and policing. That is not an invitation to co-opt the work and words of black authors, artists, and academics to apply them to our struggles. Erasing anti-black violence and anti-black racism is anti-blackness, and it is an act of violence.
  • Also. ALSO. You better not be responding to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter. Don’t do that.
  • APIs: “So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.” — Scot Nakagawa, “Blackness is the Fulcrum” (short article)
  • APIs: Soya Jung “The Racial Justice Movement Needs a Model Minority Mutiny” (medium-length article, some academic jargon, but fairly accessible)
  • Latinx: “Four Person-to-Person Things I Do to Address Anti-Blackness con Mi Gente” by CarmenLeah Ascencio (intro + listicle, strategies also relevant to other folks)

Other conversation starters

Responding to “Violence never solved anything!”

First of all, for those of you who are quoting MLK and calling for nonviolence (a popular choice is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”), please keep in mind that just before his assassination (which the U.S. government wanted and helped along), MLK said “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” He also spoke specifically on riots during a speech on March 4, 1968:

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, nonviolence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view… But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Maneuvering through derailing tactics

  • Try calling in instead of calling out. It’s hard to know how to respond when someone you love says or does something hateful. First of all, it’s your choice if and how you want to respond, and you should do so in a way that makes you feel safe. (Note, that’s safe, not “not uncomfortable.”) Calling someone out treats them like they’re disposable; Ngọc Loan Trần discusses how to engage with someone who made a mistake and keep building.
  • “People of color are being oversensitive! We’re caving to political correctness!” This is tone policing. You shut that down. Tone policing is a tool used to maintain oppression. Read this: “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite: The Issue of Nice versus Good” on Social Justice League.
  • “But why doesn’t anyone talk about black-on-black crime?” First of all, that’s just wrong, the community is and has been talking about it. Also, most murders are intraracial (within racial groups). And also, that’s changing the subject from police violence and appropriate use of force.
  • “But not all white people are terrible!”/”I didn’t choose to be born white!” Pro-tip: If you feel the need to write a dissertation on “not all white allies,” not only are you derailing the conversation you are proving the point.
  • (And while we’re at it, can everyone stop sharing that quote from To Kill A Mockingbird that only children are crying? Quote a black person, not a white savior text, and not something that ignores the real pain and fear of adults.)
  • “Talking about race makes you the racist!” No. Race is a social construct, you say? So is having seven days in a week. A week is socially constructed and socially real, and it has tangible impacts on your life.

Other resources/articles:

Ways to Support Ferguson:

  • The Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) legal fund is collecting funds for protestors’ bail and legal fees. Police have been violating protestors’ first amendment rights, as well as setting punitively high bail (ave. $1,000). Donate to the legal fund here (URL is for a donation processing portal).
  • Operation Help or Hush has been providing food and shelter for protestors. Donate here.
  • The Ferguson Municipal Public Library is staying open as late as possible, since local schools are closed. (They were open from 9-4 on Tuesday.) Donate here. (They’re also accepting BitCoin … )

Other action steps:

  • Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations.” The subhead is a pretty good break down: “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
  • Keep pushing for body cameras on all police officers (link to petition).
  • Dismantle the prison-industrial complex.

OK, so I was going to start a short list and then wake up early and finish, but now it’s 3:43 a.m. and I think I’ll just hit publish.

I want to acknowledge that this post assumes that people will be spending the next few days with family and parents specifically, which is definitely not financially/emotionally/physically possible and/or safe for everyone. I also want to recognize that the Thanksgiving holiday has its own genocidal legacy and is an ongoing site of the erasure of Native Americans and that folks may want to have those conversations as well/before/alongside.

I am open to comments to fix mistakes and/or add resources. I will most likely delete troll comments, or I will screencap them and blog about you later. Haven’t decided.

blog inertia + random list of thoughts

I have three different drafts of blog posts about different things, many of them heavy, and because I haven’t written a blog post for so long, I feel the need to write about everything, and to do it well, and instead I have spent large chunks of the last few days scowling and/or frowning at my laptop with WordPress open. So instead of a full blog post, here is a random list of thoughts:

  • I talked to my parents about Vincent Chin for the first time today, and until then I never realized they’d never brought him up before. I asked my dad if he was scared at the time, and he replied simply, “There were just some places we knew not to go.” He mentioned being on a business trip with a black co-worker in the South a while back, and he remembers that co-worker telling him how nervous he got when he got lost on the way to a presentation. “You just couldn’t be sure, so you knew not to go some places.”
  • We talked a lot about happiness and what that looks like, and values and work ethic and what it meant to grow up in the community we did. I asked my mother what lessons she hoped she imparted on her children, and she started to answer, then asked, “Isn’t this kind of cheating? Shouldn’t you know?” In a way, it does feel like cheating, as a writer — why bother with metaphors and signs and allegories and trying to figure out the subtext, I’ll just ask her.
  • The Poets for Ferguson cypher was amazing, and powerful, and so heavy. I talked to my friend Ami about it today, and we are both working our way through the hours we didn’t see live. I feel an absence, almost, now that it has wrapped up, and I realize how much I crave space that is centered on and exclusively for people of color.
  • I am grateful to have a friend I can Skype with for three hours about everything we are thinking and fears and feeling stuck and not being sure what lessons our parents wanted to teach us and what we should be doing next.
  • I am thinking a lot about inertia in general, and about living up to one of the poems I performed — one of its conclusions is that the road to progress is long, but that it’s important to keep moving. So often over this past month and a half (and in other stretches before), I have wondered how we are supposed to keep moving forward, and whether we will be able to. And I keep reminding myself to balance the need for self-care against the knowledge that my ability to turn away — and the instinct to do so — both of these are rooted in privilege.
  • Today was my mother’s birthday. Her 33-year-anniversary with my father is coming up soon. They went to get Thai food to celebrate. This morning on the phone, my mother misheard me say I would call her back and thought I’d said I’d be at the house at noon. “My heart jumped for a second,” she told me in disappointment.
  • I have been sitting on a post about “The Giving Tree” and motherhood, and I wanted to talk to my mom about it first. She said she doesn’t find it sad, just accurate. I texted my brother about it later, as he got ready to head to the Thai restaurant to surprise my mother.
    (does the boy come back? / As an old man he returns and sits on her stump / oh, happy book then!)
  • What is a sad story about motherhood, then? Is it a tree that keeps waiting, having given away all of its fruit to show how deeply and unconditionally she loves? Will she continue to wait, forever, unable to move past the spot of her last and most painful sacrifice? How can we ever begin to heal the wounds of boys who never return and trees who will always be kept waiting?

low-key lovers (accidental crosspost from fiction blog)

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?”


“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)


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

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

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

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