you can feel it when the cork stopper pops.
if you press the
lips of your flask to the gaping hole,
memories trickle in; tenuous argent streams.
you tell me to never let them go
but i've sealed the flask with gauze for your memories to breathe.
slowly, your past oozes from the sieve
in mercury droplets, clinging to the bottle rim.
your thoughts trace sinuous rivulets down the sides;
bead and burst as they land upon
damp midsummer grass.
i am five again,
barefoot in that cool wet lawn
with a firefly jar and a head full of dreams,
trying to understand those
golden blinks past sunset.
i can cup one in my hands,
its fire ephemeral as passion.
and i think your passion is
nothing more than the memory of
two wings thrashing against cruel glass until the
coals turn cold.
but i think i have waited too long for you.
your past has evaporated, a thin film of
dust clothing your naked dreams.
that creature no longer twitches its segmented leg.
so i let the jar fall,
let your wilted bud bloom with jagged glass petals.
the dust scatters in the air,
a shower overhead like dull glitter,
shimmers that dissolve yet sit suspended in that still night.
i think i have set you free,
but you can feel it,
the tension in your
lingering wake of untold tales.
that identity can be agony
I used to think my Chinese culture held an exotic allure in America,
when my white friends spoke in awe of Chinatown
with its rows of old-fashioned fans and floral bracelets in the shops
and street vendors selling skewered sausages.
When we went out together they’d beg for Chinese food
and I’d ask why, tell them please no, that I
ate Chinese food every day and didn’t even like it
because my palate is the product of McDonaldization,
of the salty comfort of medium fries
and the gum-numbing first sip of an Oreo milkshake.
I used to think that being Chinese made me special.
People ran their fingers through my straight black hair
saying that they wanted darker hair and no more curls.
Was I not the perfect China doll,
small in stature and with eyes they told me were
“big for an Asian”?
I was proud of my Caucasian eyes-
only now do I realize that there’s something wrong
with priding myself in being different from what
ten thousand years of evolution have given us.
Only now do I realize that there’s something wrong in the way that
You thought you could sum up our culture
with sugar-soaked soy sauce and chewy noodles.
Now my eyes are too swollen with stress and insufficient sleep
and I’m not liking being Asian quite so much anymore;
in a half-Asian vocational high school where
freshmen self-study five AP courses and
strive to take calculus by sophomore year,
the horrifying thought is not that
we are pushing ourselves to the limit with no avail.
The horrifying thought is that in an agonizingly short amount of time
we will be forced to haggle with a system that is rigged against us,
and who can be proud of chow mein and
rolled-up ice cream- which we don’t even
have back in Beijing-
when Asians pay to have companies like Asian Advantage tell them
not to write about our “immigrant family coming to America
in a rickety boat with $2 while sailing away from sharks”?
When counselors tell us to “de-emphasize the Asian-ness”
and to denounce our culture and who we are,
simply for the sake of a college application,
that is when we lose our identity.
With the highest GDP and GPAs,
we become nothing more than numbers,
dirty numbers that must be scrubbed raw until they are
pure, white, “clean.”
America is a salad bowl of cultures
but we Asians are the dressing,
and when they think we’re becoming too heavy,
that’s when they toss the salad bowl
until we lose our color and our meaning.
My culture has left me screaming my throat raw in my bedroom at night,
crying Why am I Asian? Why am I Chinese?
and hitting my tennis racket across the piano keys
because I can’t play racket sports and I can’t play Beethoven.
You know there’s something wrong when
I hesitate to write these words in a society that claims to be free;
Harvard will reject me for this poem because
if it isn’t already clear enough by my last name and my math competition awards,
I am intolerably, unforgivably Chinese.
It’s ironic that
our culture seems an exotic paradise,
the lilting accents of our immigrant girls a sexual fantasy,
yet we are forced to strip away our ethnicity,
cast aside our identities and our abilities and our interests
for the sake of receiving that coveted thick envelope,
when our only sins have been
learning physics under the covers in dim flashlight
and toiling for near-free wages to join our country together in 1869:
the country we helped build yet are systematically discriminated in.
scattered and disorganized
but I like to call it
the likes of e.e. cummings and William Faulkner,
I remember when I screamed and got sent to timeout
because I wasn’t allowed to end my story with a cliffhanger
but instead was forced to write
“And that was what I did over the weekend”
in big ugly reluctant letters
at the bottom of the wide-ruled notebook page.
Writing a story
is like making a wrap.
You need a conclusion
to roll it all up.
but what if I want
an open-faced burrito
with all the fillings
spilling out from over the sides?
and what if I want
to pick out the shredded-lettuce transition words
of “therefore” and “in conclusion”
and the diced-tomato topic sentences
and must-be-three-paragraph rules,
because I don’t like my vegetables,
especially not the stale and soggy ones
that we must use in every wrap?
There’s only one way
to make a wrap.
If you look at the rubric,
it tells you what to write,
and how to write it.
but the rubric says to “express myself,”
and how do I do that,
how do I become Dickens and Tolstoy
with their two-hundred-word-long sentences
when run-on phrases are the equivalents
of rotten chicken and moldy cheese?
They can break the rules
because they’re very good.
but what if I want
to be just like them,
do I have to fold my burritos
by the only recipe that the
writing rubric gives me?
Yes. Because you’re just learning and
you’re not very good yet.
but when can I be
good enough to
try a different flavor?
I don’t know, but it’s
certainly not today.
and the little wooden craft stick
with my name on it
gets moved from the green jar to the yellow jar
for bad behavior.
I keep quiet, because
even eating the same stale burrito
every day of second grade
is better than the red jar.
it’s a familiar smell,
the sharp sobering scent
of mucus and tears
mingling like lost friends,
an amalgam of agony.
it’s a familiar taste,
the brackish bitterness
of each tear as it
traces its zigzag
path down my cheek.
it’s a familiar sound,
the gasping and the choking,
the strangled, mournful cries,
desperate palpitating of
my frantic heaving heart.
it’s a familiar thought,
tell myself it doesn’t matter,
tell myself to calm down.
slow quivering breaths;
succumb to the silence.
it’s a familiar feeling,
the hollowness, the emptiness,
the comfort of nothing,
that when it isn’t barren,
when a touch of
perceivable emotion is there,
it doesn’t feel right.
it’s too full,
brimming at the edges
and threatening to spill over.
so I push it away,
relish in the
as it eats away at me,
little is left.
it’s a familiar feeling…
she stood barefoot;
flexing her pygmy toes in
peeking through tufts of
pink faux-down fur.
(chin up, close
her eyes, because
what wouldn't she
do to grow up.)
she stood barefoot,
flexing her calloused feet atop
her daughter's battered
mildew grey skin
nestled in the knots of
frayed purple shoelaces.
(chin tucked, close
her eyes, because
she'd do anything
to go back.)
not a love story
the north and
south magnetic poles.
arms around me,
slowly draw me
close, like two
lean into your
tilt just to
crisp white linen.
an instant and
why didn’t you
lips on mine,
breath from the
tip of my
life from me?
other, devour the
moment like a
was nothing but
a touch of two
misshapen nodules of
swollen pink flesh
and the hot
sour coffee breath.
I still remember
the taste of his lips,
white birch bark
she was bright carmine,
the kind that makes
you stop and look and
turn and think-
this is pure,
this is vibrant,
this is emotion;
the color of
her heart, all
passion bleeding through.
maybe it wasn’t
crimson, but it
deep and true and
real and right.
the color of
her heart- not
the crimson inside but
just the outside,
the shell of
who she was.
she was slowly
fading into labels of
pink and flowery and
fragile and girl;
she took her crimson and
her carmine and
her red and
made it what
they wanted to see,
sliding into the
niche they had
set for her.
she changed not
only her color but
her title too; sacrificed
her identity for
a crayon color,
the kind that comes
in every Crayola
she couldn’t be
exquisite carnation, so
she chose the commoners’
but pale and limp and
wilted at the edges;
let her petals
he loves me, he
loves me not.
she was eroding away
at what little
was left of
her color, as if
she was cool
grey now, wispy
ghost-like wraiths of
bleached like a
with a kind of
faded, dusty elegance,
like a jewel, tarnished
with time, a
girl who had
lost her luster
message in a bottle
we’re just sailboats, aren’t we,
two rickety brown dots
lost in the vast blue,
the edge and
our love is just
a message in a bottle, isn’t it,
one bobbing speck
like the birds do,
the only one
in the end, we
were just pollution, weren’t we,
salt-tainted spatters of parchment,
no light illuminates
when I wrote,