Friday, April 03, 2020

GloPoWriMo 2020 Day 2: A Geography of the Interior

Prompt: Our (optional) prompt for the day takes a leaf from Schuyler’s book, as it were, and asks you to write a poem about a specific place —  a particular house or store or school or office. Try to incorporate concrete details, like street names, distances (“three and a half blocks from the post office”), the types of trees or flowers, the color of the shirts on the people you remember there. Little details like this can really help the reader imagine not only the place, but its mood – and can take your poem to weird and wild places.

Today was a bad, bad pain day. This is all I could come up with for place before I gave it up, and now I'm going to bed in hopes that tomorrow will be better.

A Geography of the Interior

"It's only two small fibroids. They shouldn't cause this amount of pain. There's really no pathology to explain it."

After countless scans, more scans and ultrasounds
I should be intimately familiar with this space
but I’m not. Its geographical details elude me still:

grainy dots and nebulous lines delineating ovary walls
two small fibroids – closely-observed old friends
agglutinated amorphous clumps pale against a blurred
grey-black panorama, an arrested starfield in warp speed.

Decades of scientific advances, yet they still can’t explain why
these smooth blubber-pale egg-sacs, a delicate lace
of membrane, blood vessels and capillaries
a placid monochrome fishbowl curve on ultrasound
turns into a battlefield of morning stars each month
sharp spikes endlessly lacerating soft tissue
this space that should birth new life
but instead births infinite permutations of pain:
a penance (so they say) for unmarried, childless singlehood.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

GloPoWriMo 2020 Day 1: Iron Synthetic Fabrics On Low Heat

Prompt:  Write a self-portrait poem in which you make a specific action a metaphor for your life – one that typically isn’t done all that often, or only in specific circumstances. For example, bowling, or shopping for socks, or shoveling snow, or teaching a child to tie its shoes.

I'm not sure if it's a good thing that the prompt for today was already hard for my brain. Regardless, it took me a while (and a shower, why is it that poetic muses always show up in the shower?) to find something relatable to write about.

So I wrote about ironing. Which I don't like. Hah!

Iron Synthetic Fabrics On Low Heat

I iron my life the way I iron my clothes:
high heat with a will and infrequently, scrubbing out creases
like ex-boyfriends and detested relatives

forgetting that synthetic people, like synthetic cheap fabrics
are high on irritation and low on melting point -
(damn it, another scorch mark)
that water is a gentler persuasion for stubborn creases
than fierce unrelenting heat
that all the ironing in the world won’t get every crease out of a life -
worn, wrinkled, wrung like fine cotton.

Every night I fall asleep and every morning I forget
that I’ve sworn, sworn by all heaven and earth and pink pigs
to do things differently.

Every morning I wake up, iron my life (or not)
burn my fingers again (or not)

shake my life out, and put it on.

They say creases smooth out with wear and time.
Creases be damned.

It’s not origami where Corner A must match Corner B - 
gridlines of ordered architecture folding in, pushing out
collapsing in on themselves into a preset design:
a  mathematical universe.

I’m lousy at ironing anyway.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Early Bird March 31: My Favourite Bird

I teach children's choir and youth choir, and I've run into all sorts of students over the years. When the topic for the Early Birders (hi, I'm on the early bird side of the sphere!) came up as My Favourite Bird, I immediately thought of this one student of mine whom I've taught for about 8 years now. Watching her progress and face down her inner demons has been one of the biggest rewards of my teaching career. I am so thoroughly proud of her.


Averted eyes. Face to the ground, afraid to look up.
Hunched over, shoulders rounded like a shield
Curling herself deep within herself week after week:
A terrified sparrow hiding in the comfort of the only nest she knew.

She cried in class even though only me and her mother were present.

And yet she persisted –
Week after week, children’s choir, individual lessons
Mute, a closed-off room with doors one could not open
From the outside.
Through it all though, she loved music.
After graduating from children's choir - 
And she did.

Six years of awkward silences, stuttering soft sentences
A gawky nestling with patchy feathers and clumsy wings
Shy, swallowing her voice, learning songs 
But locking them up as tight as her thoughts.

Then -
On choir production opening night - she marched out
(Lowered eyes, blank expression yes, but she marched out)
Stood on the stage with her fellow singers
And faced down the world.

Now – two years later
She stands tall before the camera, head held high
Preparing to shoot a concert trailer.
She laughs, she jokes, she teases
She banters with the tenor who’s filming with her
She spreads full-fledged wings and rises into the air
Her open mouth overflowing with song, with words.

She turns – looks straight into my eyes, fearless as an eagle
And she smiles.

My heart soars like a lark and sings, rejoices, sings.

Friday, April 19, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 18: Elegy For Innocence

Write an elegy of your own, one in which the abstraction of sadness is communicated not through abstract words, but physical detail. This may not be a “fun” prompt, but loss is one of the most universal and human experiences, and some of the world’s most moving art is an effort to understand and deal with it.

I'm not sure this fits an abstraction of sadness, but disillusionment is sort of a loss in its own way, something that one could grieve over when you realise something integral and precious is gone for good. It's as good as a cluster headache would permit today, anyhow.


                you believed in heroes when you were five

                 there was Mighty Isis with her tiara and white mini dress soaring through the air and the magical amulet that guaranteed superpowers to defeat evil except that you didn’t know that evil didn’t come with recognizable Fu Manchu mustaches bushy sideburns and bad 70s clothes but much closer to home words cloaked in your grandaunt’s cheap flowered polyester each overly bright artificial bloom bearing a caption she hung onto your 12 year old shoulders 

                captions like your thighs are chunky but that’s all right you’re good at hiding all your fat in your ass so you’ll look splendid in a cheongsam because you need a round ass to wear one words gussied up in concerned skirts and demure slacks telling Mom you watch that girl of yours she’s running around with boys words planted firmly in the bedrock of assuming you're already a little slut but you’re 11 you’re 11 years old and you don’t know that you’ve already been  marked and condemned you don’t even know that boys are dangerous creatures that should be kept far far away

much later you discover that magical amulets aren’t real that there’s no talisman against classmates dismantling your name making fun of you or that girl your best friend who bullied you into lying for her to teachers and left you with the fallouts that got you punished and you never thought that this could be wrong because you were best friends and protecting her was important 

you didn’t know she was soft sawdust in a brittle shell until the day you stood up to her (her face crumpled like used tissue tears leaking out of her eyes like a plastic bag full of water with holes stabbed into it not long after that she moved and you never saw her again)

you never knew that you were cracked a glass jar with the heart weeping out of you like black tears not until you lay against the lulling rhythm of someone else's heart you reached for your own and found

black hollow black hole
blip blip blip the machinery turns 
blip blip warning battery running low

there are no heroes at forty-five

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 17: The Bones Speak

Write a poem that presents a scene from an unusual point of view. 

I decided I'd just start with Day 17, and catch up with my remaining three missing days along the way so I would feel a lot less stressed out. Sharon Olds happens to be one of my favourite poets, and while I love her featured poem, there is one I love even more: The Pact. It bristles with tension and darkness and a foreboding sense of disaster, even horror.

A few years ago I was privileged to take a introductory course in Forensic Anthropology with the amazing Dr. Sue Black, and one of the things that stays vividly in memory is just how much is written on the bones of the dead, despite all efforts by killers and murderers to hide the traces. I used that as a jumping-off point for today's prompt. It's not entirely satisfactory,'s written at least!


She always wore long sleeves 
On the hottest of days.
Nothing to see here, she always said
Don't worry. I'm fine.

The X-rays tell a different tale:
Of old fractures, of injuries
Hidden beneath layers of flesh and fear.

Stripped of skin, defleshed to mere skeleton
Her life lays bare on a cold metal slab
Exposed like dead-white maggots
Fat, wriggling, reluctantly pulled out
From hollow eye sockets full of hell.

A chip here. A groove there.
Violence records itself in bone.
We can be read by those
Who decipher death
Who study the language of cruelty.
We do not give up our secrets easily.

Nothing to see here, she always said
We know
We know
The bones always know.

GloPoWriMo Day 13: The Oracle Casts Her Bones

Write a poem about something mysterious and spooky.

Today being a day totally devoid of inspiration, I paid another visit to the Oracle. She really made me work to get a message out of her, but it's better than a blank page (which is where I've been most of the day.)


blue eye to eternity
poison cup secrets
her manner liquid  
a baby born only wets its lips
then no life
flowering ice perfume
i listen for magic     
dog eats deer
her young devour god

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 12: The Writer Decides To Stop Writing For Good

Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem about a dull thing that you own, and why (and how) you love it. Alternatively, what would it mean to you to give away or destroy a significant object?

I don't know if writing would be considered an object, but it's certainly significant to me in more ways than one. Stopping it entirely (which I was doing before GloPo siren-song'd me into writing some more) was...definitely on par with some very unpleasant experiences I've had in the past.


i stopped the words
tore them apart
                half-formed letters
                spelling a thought
                poised on the edge
                of the brain
                ready to spill
                into my arms
                my fingers
                onto paper

i ripped the words
from my being
flung them away
trampled them

                they rose
                a body of ghosts
                a rumal
                around my throat
                and strangled me
                to death

*The rumal is an item of clothing similar to a scarf or bandana, and was used by the Thuggee gangs of India to strangle their victims to death.

GloPoWriMo Day 11: Deviant

Write a poem of origin. Where are you from? Not just geographically, but emotionally, physically, spiritually? Maybe you are from Vikings and the sea and diet coke and angry gulls in parking lots. Maybe you are from gentle hills and angry mothers and dust disappearing down an unpaved road. And having come from there, where are you now?

Another difficult one to write. My ancestors are from mainland China - I still have family in a small village in Guangzhou, but I've never met any of them even though my father has. I'm non-conventional by any standards, Asian ones in particular - might have something do with the fact that I'm part Hakka, part Cantonese (both Hakka and Cantonese women were well-known for independent streaks, out-spokenness, and putting the fear of heaven and earth into anyone who was unlucky enough to draw their ire.)


The ancient beauties of China are dolls:
                tranquil as the landscapes of Suzhou
                elegant as the calligraphy of Zhao Meng Fu
                graceful and virtuous as little darting swallows.

I am no doll but a weapon in exile:
                a rough dao ready for battle
                fire and fury and iron in my blood
                singing through my veins.

Somewhere between my grandfather’s voyage from China 
                to Malaysia and my eventual birth
                the blueprint for ‘classic Chinese woman’ was misplaced:
                willow-slender frame, alasbaster-pale, drooping-delicate
                obedient, filial, devoted, refined, restrained.

Instead the chaos and flames of the Warring States
                lick hungry just beneath my skin
                Hua Mu Lan biding her time to be reborn
                Every strike and stab of the longsword in my hands.

(‘She reminds me so much of you,’ my mother said, between
                awkward pauses over a trans-Atlantic call many years ago after
                she watched Disney’s Mulan: the only way she could tell me
                she understood what burned behind the doll-face masking
                twenty-four years of a misfit’s rage.)

*Zhao Meng Fu was a famous Chinese calligrapher whose work is held to be a prime example of beautiful writing in several different scripts.

**A dao is one of the 4 traditional ancient Chinese weapons - a curved blade, somewhat like a sabre, and used extensively in battle.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

GloPoWriMo Day 10: The Furriness of Rain

Write a poem that starts from a regional phrase, particularly one to describe a weather phenomenon. 

This was another difficult write (can you see a pattern emerging here?) In the end, I used a phrase that we use to describe a drizzle - '
毛毛雨', or, furry rain, and let the piece run its course because I was way too tired from work to think of any other more interesting / better phrases.


when it drizzles we say下毛毛雨, xia(1) mao(2) mao(2) yu(3) which means furry rain is falling and as a child i used to wonder why: until i grew older and realised that fur envelops - fur is soft - fur is temporary amnesia from cold -

furry rain softens the hard edges of the world - falls gentle on the skin like yearned-for-unrequited touch – soaks through hair clothing skin earth – a first but not final intimacy –

unlike you father

the rain slips off my skin easier than the marks of  your words nailed heavy onto my bones