Category Archives: poems

Two Sides of the Pacific

I am from words unspoken

silence at the dinner table

I am from are you hungry?

meaning I care about you

I am from why didn’t you visit?

meaning I like seeing you

 

I am from dry crushed ramen

hot Cheetos from the green corner store

red dye staining our fingers

I am from free school lunches

and chili cheese fries

I am from race rumbles

cool girls in overalls and dark lip-liner

 

I am from the highlands of Viet Nam

Hue’s heat and delta coconuts

I am from grandmothers

who plant me guava trees

a father who grows

passion fruit in California

his dreams resisting common sense

 

I am from the poet in the Citadel

forever protected

forever inscribed

safe from your Offensives

 

I am from wedding dresses in tin boxes

far-off eyes and the spirit of freedom

I am from exploding mortars, peasant food

fine silks and world-class tailors

I am from 16-hour flights and layovers

I am from so much history and too much distance

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Filed under asian americans, culture, immigrant, Oakland, poems, viet nam

Strong fragility

After summer, I wilt a bit.

Dry and shrivel into myself.

Slow and turn inward, a mirror

in my blood.

By winter, I am still enough to see,

awaiting change.

I am as even as a winter solstice.

Cold as a frozen lake.

Crisp like the air.

I am fragile in my growing strength.

Strong as my grief.

Solid like the grey sky

we share and the chants we cry.

I am watching women mourn

the children of darker hues.

Humanity knitted in

the face of a deadly greed.

4 hours left in the cold,

Your dark skin on black cement.

28 hours to survive,

by spare chance.

4 year-olds learning how to

grow up too fast and

keep their hands real slow.

The list unfolds of names,

written on a scroll of white,

carried on marches,

recalling my ancestors’

color of mourning.

At any moment the skies

will bring a downpour.

The winds will rip us apart.

We are fragile in our growing strength.

The dead watch over us.

Please guide these mothers

become overnight spokespersons.

Buoy the voices of these high school poets

become protest chants.

Raise the volume of the thousand black fists

pounding this cruel world for

answers and justice and

liberation.

Pray our words rise from our throats

strong and solid

to shake down this hell.

Remind us to be humble,

reflective in our intentions.

Protect us–

We are fragile in our growing strength.

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Filed under asian americans, blacks, love, poems, race

church with audre

it is the 7th day of spring.

i return to audre

like followers to the bible

holding the cover

my hands peel back

the pages

i am at prayer.

 

 

audre writes of fallen sisters

i am on my knees

and mouthing rosary

pondering ancestry

beyond shared bloodline.

 

 

audre writes of anger and growth

of honesty and growth.

a storm is brewing

that can feed the earth

or bend trees

or break them.

 

 

it has been raining

through a drought.

on the 7th day of spring

i return to audre.

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Filed under gender, poems

you are worthy of your dreams.

  1. there will be difficulties. remember you are making a choice to take a glimpse from the mountaintops instead of simply drifting downstream. there are risks of burning thighs and sprained ankles along the way, an ache similar to failure. but remember, the views up here are breath-taking.
  2. this choice carries an inevitability. your obsessions are misnamed passions that deserve to be unpacked, studied, developed, and worn.
  3. your father records himself singing into his cell phone. you wonder what dreams he has never leapt into.
  4. you know too many who are stiflingly practical. have they had their dose of dreaming?
  5. you have been living and writing. you have been preparing for this since you were 6.
  6. when you were a babe and wordless still, your momma rocked you to sleep reading the tales of kieu. you come from a lineage of literature. human expression is not new to you.
  7. vietnamese songs are stories, are operas, are lamenting lullabies. human expression is not new to you.
  8. in your mind there are canvases to fill, words to read, and it looks like sunny paths that lead into one story to write.
  9. know that you will feel loneliness. you will feel. a lot.
  10. trust that you are strong and getting stronger. freer. lovelier.

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Filed under poems

Yellow Art

(After Amiri Baraka’s “Black Art”)

 

Yellow art!

Poems are bullshit unless they are

machete or sunshine or rice waiting

on a front stoop. Or yellow-brown men dying

of silence, leaving only after

beating their lovers into pools of beer. Fuck poems

and they are useful, they scream

in their orgasms, love themselves, and

feed those already so full. We want real

words of the deadly world real blood

and guts. Hearts and minds of a people

sparking into flames and action. We want poems

like fists fucking you up in Oakland

protests or like knives to jelly full

corporate bellies. Yellow poems like

traditional weeping songs to end the

American War, whose orange fire-bombs

lick at our cousin’s womb. Assassin poems

pointing at the Beast. Poems that wrestle

cops into alleys, kung-fu their guns out

of reach and send them back to their

suburban homes. Poems that whiiiiirrrrr, whiiiiirrrrr,

whiiiiirrrrr, like mom’s sewing machine that

fed all 7 of us into childhood and

manhood. There’s an yellow engineer sucking

on Silicon Valley’s whiteness. Go get him, poem!

Show ‘em the light! Another bad poem cracking

nunchucks at the corporate overseer

Another yellow woman staggering in her

mad world, invisible silent alone

Poem scream from napalm from leaks in the roof

from absent fathers from nail polish fumes. Poem

scream so you can light your flames

put on black berets and your righteous fists

Do that thing called justice

Let there be no vision poems written

Until we can maintain clearer sight

Truth serve us. Let yellow people know

that they are the lovers and artists

of warriors and artists

of warriors And poems & poets &

all the wonders here in the world.

 

We want a yellow poem. And a

Yellow World.

Let the world be a Yellow Poem

And Let All Yellow People Speak This Poem

Silently

or LOUD

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Filed under asian americans, immigrant, poems, race, violence

Freewrite: Part 5 response to “10 Things to Ask a Stranger”

5.

How did your lips taste
The first time you lied to your mother?
How many tongues have you invited in since then
Attempting to rinse away the guilt?

(from “10 Things to Ask a Stranger” by Safia Elhillo. Full poem here.)

How did you know I lied? How did you know what trial and tribulations come from attaching to another and in your moment of need, being thrown away?

Truth is, my lips tasted of hatred and anger. The acid of bile, the relief of vomit. But how was I to know to name these burdens she left me? I needed her but too soon learned to depend on myself. To curl myself in protection- in fists and fear alike. A fetus outside the womb. To unfurl cautiously, never knowing which words or actions would explode the minefields, that would expose me for my horribleness. To hide myself and all she deemed bad, shameful, guilty little girl.

If I am so guilty, so bad for anything, it is of trying to find love. There is no guilt for those other tongues I invited in. They only challenged me to understand the hurt that was there, opened doors to find the words for betrayal, gave me gifts of acceptance, allowed a small space for questions.

I am not guilty. I am hurt. I am imperfect and I am cleansing myself of feelings I never knew the words for. Without you.

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Filed under love, poems

Hairstories

In college, a white boy I once called a friend told me that I had hair like every Asian girl—long, straight, and black.  It was one of the most trivializing statements I have heard.  Needless to say, this comment marked a moment I began to drift away from this group of friends into a more intentionally developed group.  I started to identify with college activists of color.  I sat in the “black” section of the dining hall.  I had to confront my own ideas about classism and racism.  I’ve never told people this—but as many close friends as I had to sit with in that section, I always wondered if I was accepted and how I would be perceived in that space in the dining hall.  I knew though that there were too many similar struggles.  And I was not one to overlook the shared experiences we had of being silenced, erased, disrespected, and oppressed by the institution that we knew we were privileged to be at.  This point though is a story for another time.

My point is this—Asian Americans also have our own hair stories and our own hair traumas.  These hairstories are both political and non-political all at once.

After this happened, the next time I was in Oakland, I cut my hair into a short bob.  It looked horrible because my working-class consciousness only allowed me to go to the cheapest place I could find.  And, well, bringing a picture of Rihanna didn’t help my 70-year-old Asian male “hairstylist” any little bit either.  Luckily hair grows and so did I.

This short haircut marked an important period that I still believe has shaped the trajectory of the rest of my life.  I just finished taking a class on the Black Diaspora and was developing an internationalist perspective.  NAFTA and the WTO became terms in my back pocket.  I was building an academic relationship with a brilliant Leftist professor who would later advise me on my thesis.  I was becoming involved in political conversations in the 5-Colleges area about Asian American Studies.  I had my hair cut when I was in Oakland, just before I would fly to New York and catch a flight to the Dominican Republic.  I studied abroad there, which allowed me to visit Haiti and Cuba.  And on and on, the understanding and radicalism dug its roots deeper, and deeper still into me.

I kept my hair short and a year later, pierced my nose as a signifier of my politics.  There was no going back now.  The truth could not be unlearned.  It demanded that I lived it with integrity.  In my senior year, my advisor taught a class on Black Marxism, and we began a grueling (and self-imposed) timeline to research and write my senior thesis.  It still is one of the most focused years I have had in my life.  One I am proud of.

About a year after I got back to Oakland, I was thrust into a world of Vietnamese-American activism that I had never dreamed of.  My hair was cropped shorter. And shorter.

The politics and experiences continued to evolve.  To both my enjoyment and disappointment, my hair scared my parents into questioning my sexuality for a moment.  This is new because—to my parents—I am not a sexual being, and they will do anything to cling to that belief.  Also, I began teaching middle schoolers in Oakland and students commented on my short hair.  It didn’t bother me personally but made me ache to have more conversations about gender.  “Why is your hair like a boy’s?”  “Because I think this is beautiful too.  Because short hair can be woman’s hair.”

My own ideas about how to live my politics changed.  Every year could not be as intense as my last year in college.  I had been so angry the last few years of college.  And anger is important, but it was also deafening to ears that knew life was composed of other melodies.

Another point began to bug me.  Whose politics was I trying to live?  Was that white boy always going to live in this hair of mine?  What was I saying about the relationship between politics and presentation?  I was tired of carrying around a beehive of politics on my head.  I have nothing to prove to anyone, I thought.

Almost a year ago, I decided reluctantly that I would grow out my hair.  I thought to myself: the feminine doesn’t mean un-political, doesn’t mean conservative, doesn’t mean anti-revolutionary.  Neither does the feminine mean weak, timid, nor the other infinite words that exist to put-down women.  This was another choice I was making.  And free choices are revolutionary.  And breaking binaries is important.  And just another Asian girl with radical politics was here to shake things up.  Just another Asian girl and not just another Asian girl.

And as they tend to, these decisions coincided with moments of big change.  I was and am coming to consciousness about the ways that war, trauma, and family have affected me.  My earliest connections had taught me little or nothing about a functional, thriving love.  Granted, learning to survive, sacrifice, and act out of duty have my appreciation.  Yet it wasn’t and isn’t moving me nor my community forward.  The pain was over-flowing and impacting the decisions I was making about the people and relationships I was investing in.  So this time, I did not go home to the politics, it had already came home and roosted in me.  I had to begin healing.  I am working on this.  Remember, hair is growing and so am I.

So why these stories and why my long hair?  Because the white boy was right—I’m just like every Asian girl: too unique for him to understand. Because my identity and politics are stories that my hair alone cannot represent.  Because the next time some dude yells, “Me love you long time” out the back of a truck, I know it was never my fault, no matter the length of my hair.  Because femininity is more complex and messier than hair.  Because Asian Americans have our hair stories too.  Because—even though it may mark points in our development—hair is not the only signifier of our politics.  Because, really though, it is none of your business.

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Filed under amherst, asian americans, dominican republic, essays, gender, love, poems, race