Thursday, April 15, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 14: Swallow

Prompt:  Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that delves into the meaning of your first or last name. 

I've spent years grappling with the ambivalence I feel about my given name. In my family, my grandfather was the one who named all the grandchildren, and I was the oldest grandchild so perhaps it was a big occasion for him too - naming his first grandchild. He gave me many things but I often forget that he gave me my name as well, and for that, I'm trying to learn to love it after spending years hating it. In Chinese culture, swallows are symbolic of feminine grace and beauty; it's a common character in girls' names. In the Chinese zodiac, the year of the ox comes before the year of the tiger - and I was born smack in the middle of the transition, just before the new year.

Day 14:  Swallow

no one thought to ask my grandfather
why his first instinct
was to name me for a bird
a swallow
impatient child my grandmother said
born on the cusp of the old year
fading grey-golden into the new
the ox, halfway metamorphosized
into the tiger
perhaps my grandfather
wished to soften my fierce edges
deflect the stubborn anger that would rage lifelong
at a name dissected for laughs by classmates
mispronounced and ridiculed
it’s pronounced ‘Sook’
no  it isn’t you suck you suck you suck
hahahaha you suck
Suk Yin
it means kind graceful swallow my aunt told me
there is no kindness in children’s playground jeers
no grace in the clumsy shame
that sets your name on fire and burns it to ash
the taste of it chalk and bile
on your small bitten tongue
on overseas official forms we are told to write
given name middle name family name
but my given name is unacceptable
it can’t be two words dear
either you hyphenate it or run it together
or else separate it into given name and middle name
my college degrees
bear a name that is mine yet not-mine
a hyphen that is not on my passport
nor my birth certificate
a hypen’s difference that brands me an imposter
i hold degrees i cannot use
because i cannot prove that the person in them is me
that it is not some clone who lived my life
wore my face slipped into my skin
i i i i
into short soundbytes
my name reinvented
easier to pronounce
easier to remember
while the rest of me
erases itself 
my name is two words
two characters
two facets in one body
i will not hyphenate them
shackle them to the earth
when my grandfather
set space between them
wide as the heavens
so i could be free to fly

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 6: Players

PromptGo to a book you love. Find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.

Today, writing is impossible with the influx of work. Even if it's hideously unsatisfactory, this is as good as it's going to get.

Phrase: But hope sustains. It can be exploited. 
'A Time Of Torment', John Connolly


Her father played the stock market and the market
Had the last laugh - played him instead
Right into the grave. To the last
He believed it would smile on him again.
She, filial daughter, carries on his legacy
Plays the stock market called love
Eyes on the ticker-tape - up, down, buy, sell.
Market crashes. Market plays her
Just like it did her father. Like him
She believes it will smile on her again.
These stocks - sweet words, passion-promises
They won’t fail. If not this time
Maybe the next.

Monday, April 05, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 5: Baby Baby (It's Showbiz)

Prompt: This prompt challenges you to find a poem, and then write a new poem that has the shape of the original, and in which every line starts with the first letter of the corresponding line in the original poem.

This was another bit of blank staring for a while - for whatever reason, this April is a hard write, but maybe it's because I've been away from writing for so long, and recovery (as well as adjusting back to work!) has been taking up a great deal more energy than I expected.

The poem I ended up choosing to use is 'Barbie Chang's Tears' by Victoria Chang, which was...difficult, until I came across the account of Hana Kimura's death from last May, and the circumstances which led to it. After that, the poem sort of unraveled slowly, but still in a direction I didn't expect.

Barbie Chang’s Tears

Barbie Chang’s tears are the lights of
              the city that go off on

off on the men walking around the city
              move but Barbie Chang

doesn’t she cannot promote herself if
              she had legs she would

stop begging if she had a head she
              would stop her own

wedding but the city has no extra
              bedding it is not

ready yet the maids are still making
              beds Barbie Chang is

still making things up there are always
              storms long arms drinks

with pink umbrellas because they know
              she is confused like a

seahorse light avoids her town on
              the map B2 C4 she

wants to be used she doesn’t want to
              be with you it is morning

again and Barbie Chang is already
              mourning the men the

night men who are always right who
              never write back

she prefers to sleep on her back so she
              can see the eyes of her

attackers in the morning a bed with
              questions with her

depression on each side two small
              holes from knees


Baby Gurrrrl sits on the edge of
             the pretty pills that will

oeurve her small life into dayglo glamglitter
             make her into the

darling she's never managed to be if
             she had her choice she'd

stop trying to see if her small voice
              would splash a wee

window in the winner-takes-woopie

rack-and-ruin sea she has drowned in
               blind as a dead dog

so many things she punkglamprecious

wants to antidote she's a bright red
               shoe being polished to a

showbiz-shine she has no choice she
                wants to vanish she

wants to not care she didn't want to
                 be your personal darling

android-sweet Baby Gurrrrl is everyone's
                  meth lab the men who

note each flip and swim-swam sway of
                   nitro hips the

squee-women who follow like bees so they
                   can dip their tongues in her

adoringthick knifesweet nectar of shamefame
                   quotient for kicks

devoured like a pill she sinks
                    help won't come

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 4: The Unnamed

PromptIn honor of the always-becoming nature of poetry, I challenge you today to select a photograph from the perpetually disconcerting @SpaceLiminalBot, and write a poem inspired by one of these odd, in-transition spaces. Will you pick the empty mall food court? The vending machine near the back entrance to the high school gym? The swimming pool at what seems to be M.C. Escher’s alpine retreat? No matter what neglected or eerie space you choose, I hope its oddness tugs at the place in your mind and heart where poems are made.

I did scroll through the images on the LiminalBot, and kept coming back to this one, for whatever reason. The resulting poem went in a direction I didn't intend for it to go, on a subject that I didn't intend to broach, but perhaps it's a necessary catharsis on an ambivalence no one told me I would  feel before surgery.

I can’t see it but I feel it - this invader, this foreign body within
Blooming like a leech’s mouth, large enough to require excision.
The nurse’s words flow past my ears, a stream of syllables joined
Dot-to-dot - at your age, no children any time soon, hysterectomy
Reasonable solution, solve your pain -
I am a gas station in the middle of no-man’s-land
The faceless daughters I will never have
Standing attendant at the pumps.
I am sorry.
My mouth forms the shape of words that melt
Like wax babies under hot sun and trickle
Down my throat, hardening, stopping the sounds
Before they can be uttered.
I wanted to teach you to be warriors
To be everything the world tells you
A woman can’t be.
Eyeless they stare at me
Faces blank holes like paper-doll cutouts.

My pen scrawls a signature on the consent form.
I am sorry, my daughters.
One letter at a time, they begin to bleed away
Until all that is left are stains shaped
Like falling stars.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 3: The Surrealist's Flipbook

Prompt: Today, I’d like to challenge you to make a “Personal Universal Deck,” and then to write a poem using it. The idea of the “Personal Universal Deck” originated with the poet and playwright Michael McClure, who gave the project of creating such decks to his students in a 1976 lecture at Naropa University. Basically, you will need 50 index cards or small pieces of paper, and on them, you will write 100 words (one on the front and one on the back of each card/paper) using the rules found here.

Once you have your deck put together, shuffle it a few times. Now select a card or two, and use them as the basis for a new poem.

Today being a full day of teaching, plus weather-induced migraine, plus last-minute unexpected editing work, my brain wasn't in a space to go full-list like the rules, so I did a very simplified version of the Poetic List, and picked words at random in the shower.

Words: Orchid, knives, pearls, bones. (I know. They read like a murderer's list.)

The results...are a bit bizarre, but I think that's about as best as I can manage on a day like today. It felt a bit like flipping through one of the flipbooks I used to have as a child to make the pictures move, so that's what it ended up getting titled as.


Did you find me in the pages of the old account ledgers
In the corner, each entry listing a name. A part. A value.
Two myopic eyeballs, a pair of hands (short and stubby)
An assortment of innards, a brain of unknown composition
Sandwiched between a dried fern leaf and a recipe
For no-knead bread bookmarking Page 15.
No need for overly-complex analysis, dear Watson.
I am a map, a skin, a chameleon skin.
Lan Shijie, assassin-eyed wuxia Orchid Girl, serenaded
Not with flowers but a bouquet of knives
And a pure black orchid nestled within, its
Nymph-blush-speckled white centre housing
A protruding gold-black flecked coy tongue
Mouth opening to swallow me wholesale
Down down
The trap opens, a body drops
And I am the Hanged Man again
Mouth a cavernous fly-specked hunger
Protruding black-flecked tongue a jester’s joke
A last word, a by-word choked back into the throat
Down down
Cut down
Into a box, a jack-in-the-box
Of skeletal words and skeleton bones
Dressed in Ophelia’s lace, lying low, low, below
Where jack-in-boxes-with-secrets go
Dropped into the deepdown
Down down
Full fathom five where thy father lies
With fish-hooked mouth and hollow eyes
Or are they pearls. The pearls that were his eyes.
La la la la lies, all lies, the pretty words
Defleshed from promises decayed.
You hung a chimera around my neck
To guard me. Pearls, you said. A string of pearls.
In the night the dead men sussurate
In fractured letters, fragmented words:
We see you. We see all. Set us free from our prison
This necklace of pearls
This necklace of eyes.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 2: Checkpoint, Interrupted

PromptIn the world of well-known poems, maybe there’s no gem quite so hoary as Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Today, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem about your own road not taken – about a choice of yours that has “made all the difference,” and what might have happened had you made a different choice.

When people talk about how useless the arts are, I tell them that their so-called 'useless' arts literally saved my life. I might have made the choice, but the arts were what made all the difference in the end. Things could have turned out very differently on multiple occasions, but I'm glad they didn't, when all's said and done.


Ever since the monster left and you stood in a dark kitchen, words juddering
in your mouth that wanted to be spoken but lost definition and
slipped out in howling vowels, all consonants gone
it’s been there -
that translucent doorway in the shape
of a stained white plastic chopping board raised like a shield
kitchen knife gripped in the nerveless fingers of your shaking hand
nothing but darkness beyond and the bone-white girl lying
on her bone-white slab, wings folded over her face
promising rest.
Since then you’ve tried to go through repeatedly but each time
your hand grasps for the handle -
the knife, the pills, the fall that will open the door at last
flaming angels bar the way:
St. Edward Watson wearing the ghost of Crown Prince Rudolph
chasing the spectre of Mary Vetsera
St. Xiao Zhan singing shooting stars into the night
St. This St. That, faces blurred like time
arms outstretched, Gandalf to the Balrog that wears my shape
and has stolen my eyes
saying no no you shall not pass.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021: Day 1 - Bottoms Up

Prompt: Sometimes, writing poetry is a matter of getting outside of your own head, and learning to see the world in a new way. To an extent, you have to “derange” yourself – make the world strange, and see it as a stranger might. To help you do that, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem inspired by this animated version of “Seductive Fantasy” by Sun Ra and his Arkestra. 

Watching the video and its surreal animation made me think of upside-down worlds and surreal things, like the news, and how things seem to disappear these days - things like me, like missing women and dead women, because as an Asian woman, it seems like I'm a *thing* to most people.

Day 1: Bottoms Up

i see life from the bottom of a glass looking up
full empty it doesn’t matter everything distorts even air
gravity is a downward-falling lasso
what grows downward are the bodies of the dead
free-falling spread-eagled onto a blip of consciousness
blip we see you blip we don’t blip you are viruses
blip you are the invisible dead
women who could have been my aunties
corpses elongating into tentacles  into creepers into roots
my landlady giving advice on ovarian cysts
our laundromat owner her orchid-bloom smile
extending downward at the corners
a bloody mustache of smeared lipstick and stopped wails
i see life from the bottom of a glass full of words strangled at birth
silence is an eraser

Saturday, April 25, 2020

GloPoWriMo 2020 Day 24: Pomegranate Love

PromptToday’s prompt is a fairly simple one: to write about a particular fruit – your choice. But I’d like you to describe this fruit as closely as possible. Perhaps your poem could attempt to tell the reader some (or all!) of the following about your chosen fruit: What does it look like, how does it feel, how does it smell, what does it taste like, where did you find it, do you need to thump it to know if it’s ripe, how do you get into it (peeling, a knife, your teeth), do you need to spit out the seeds, should you bake it, can you make jam with it, do you have to fight the birds for it, when is it available, do you need a ladder to pick it, what is your favorite memory of eating it, if you threw it at someone’s head would it splatter them or knock them out, is it expensive . . . As you may have realized from this list, there’s honestly an awful lot you can write about a fruit!

As much as I've been wanting to write the last few days, life has gotten in the way with a vengeance - and with it the discouragement that comes with being so behind there's no earthly way of catching up. However, today's prompt reminded me of something I wrote a little while ago, so while it's technically cheating, it's still about a fruit, and it's still something up where there wasn't any five minutes ago, so even if it doesn't count, maybe it'll serve as inspiration for later, if life doesn't get in the damn way YET AGAIN...


My father's love is a big round pomegranate on the table after lunch.
For you, he says.

Two simple words which over forty years of troubled relations
hard work, and difficult love have polished to burnished gold sheen
wrapped about with the decades-old memory of a wayward daughter 
eating pomegranates in Virginia declaring that of all things 
she loved this fruit the best.

Yellow-streaked red. This pomegranate is heavy in my palm, not
quite as vivid as other pomegranates I have known but when I cut it apart
the thin red juice spurting from bruised sacs is sweet as honey.

Pale pinkish-and-red. Endothelium cells, contained by yellow membranes
thin as onion skin. Breaking them apart is like dissecting a body's secrets,
detaching each plump, ripe sac from the finger-clutch  of its yellow moorings
holding everything tight against smooth pomegranate peel
like flesh contained by its epidermis.

I stand at the sink, deseeding love that falls in tiny scarlet jewels -
pomegranate seeds, bleeding memory and the remembrance of things lost
and things gained, hope and the fear of things to come
thin pale-blood juice staining my fingers and the cutting board
with winter-sweet promise.

Tomorrow is tomorrow. Today, there are pomegranates
and my father, the kitchen god, storing up scents and conversation
like ribbons to tie around the next pomegranate
the next memento of unspoken love.