what we did not cover in the street medic training

[content note: health care, abuse, surgery, cancer, death]

the little things like:
there is only so much
the human body can take
(which i know)

the degree a wrist
— or a mind —
can bend before breaking
(which i do not know)

and whether the bruises
on the inside of that wrist
means the white coats will send her away

or, if not them,
when she is treated, released
men in other uniforms will send her further away

after college a friend posted a photo of her medical bills
“without insurance, i would be dead”
two years later, she was, anyway

“cancer is possible, come back in six months”
I swallowed the fear, stopped going instead
for more that two years, i stayed away

cells may have been dividing
secretly growing, plotting, slow burn
(but i did not want to know)

if you hold on to something too long
the release loses its joy,
which I learned, when i finally did go

we call ourselves survivors
— it’s what we (most of us) do, survive —
struggling to breathe, to last
to just … stay alive

in three months four friends
went under the blade
cut into, not cut short

women carrying cysts, fibroids
their pre-existing trauma made
cut away, then cut more

there is always more coming
so much more and still,
still more i do not know

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love poems for dysphoria 

[content notes: dysphoria, sex mention, dissociation]


I came like a panic attack:
quickly, silent at first,
body surrendering

that flood of chemicals
rushing through bloodstream
leaving me breathless, gasping

so dizzy
with the thrill of it
that I
could not stay
in this body,
not yet

oh god, please
sensations ebb
at last

to faint tingles
and
a promise
of more to come


haiku: depression

not speaking his name
didn’t stop Voldy, either
i speak, & i fight


pull on your favorite tank top
strap on the hand-me-down watch
ticking from a comrade’s wrist to yours
paint eyeliner over swollen lids
anything can be armor if it keeps you safe

ask your lover to remind you
of the ways your body is beautiful
tell them exactly the words you need to hear
swim into the space they pull open
repeating your truths back to you

fill your pockets with stones
reread every affirmation
drink deep from the jar of moon water
sitting cherished on your altar
watch that gif on a loop until flux turns it orange

honor the ways your trauma has made you softer
you flowing salt water back to shore
the depth of your sadness
the wholeness of your breaking

remember that even stars
were once clouds of dust
collapsing inward

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?

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

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.

seven days

mossy rock, kyoto

well,
it’s been a week now
since the world didn’t end

which means,
i suppose,
that we can get back to destroying it ourselves

or maybe
we can stop treating
armageddon as
some sort of personal and collective responsibility
or mutual goal
towards which we are all working

and maybe we
can start working on
some beginnings instead

i think i would like that