[the ocean will take us one day]
My first memory is when the tide pulled me
into its room. On land, my mistake as an adult
was letting the laws go by, unannounced.
When you enter a city, check the elevation
on the welcome sign. This month, the moon
was as close as it will ever be
in our lifetime. This month, the police
let the drowning loose.
The tide may be tired, but never tires.
Was it worth it, what you did
to live by the sea? Stay with me
in bare light, undone. In recovery,
two states drift toward one another
and repel, like soldiers. Rapture,
I’ve felt that, too. Who will stop a man
from having his way? I go under
to drag the words out of the deep.
The women were brave and beautiful.
The women were brave and beautiful their entire lives.
Oakland, CA. November 2016
with a line by Jacques Rancourt
It is June & I read about having grace to forgive those
who would condemn us. It is June & a man reads a poem
where the father becomes a dying stag & the son says there is
something I need to tell you. It was June when I was in bed
past 1:00 a.m. gathering news about the Orlando nightclub
shooting. I fell asleep knowing I would wake to walk
against grief in waves. It is June & I am happy that, at
some point, Tegan & Sara will appear in San Francisco
or Oakland. It is June & I have never prayed to any god.
It was June in the 2000s when my ex-partner ran
the New York City pier dance. We slid through a sea
of men with shaved chests. The songs hardly had words
& the bass shuddered into our bodies. Orgasms of glitter
spilled over the Hudson & New York rocked & roared
back. I stood in the VIP section in a tropical sundress
surrounded by so many barely dressed people double-
kissing my face, saying happy Pride & where is your wife
Peterborough, NH. October 2017
All Beyoncés & Lucy Lius—
where are you from / the LBC / can you speak / har gow siu mai / June Lena Rose and Waverly / black tea with boba 50% ice 75% sweetness / baked or steamed bao / 415 vs 510 / don’t trust banh mi over $5 / Richmond or Richmond District / what do your people call jook / eight is lucky in Chinese because it sounds like luck / why didn’t Jet Li kiss Aaliyah / what is the best late-night restaurant in Chinatown / The Woman Warrior is canon / little girls in pink and red / Angel Island poetry / 80 to 880 to 580 to 980 to 680 to 780 / in Berkeley they are quick with the ma’am / four is bad luck / I can’t tell Mandarin from Cantonese / incense altars with oranges / is she hapa / Buddha raising money above his head / the 5 to the 405 to the 605 to the 10 to the 101 / Lucy Liu and my girl Drew / Cameron D and Destiny / if I dress in all black I can take control / monolid makeup tips on YouTube / Maggie Cheung / small business ceramic white cat with one raised paw / mixed meat with pan-fried noodles / the 110 to the 105 to the 710 to the 91 / Hello Kitty Little Twin Stars My Melody / I calculate my proportions with finesse / like a G6 like a G6 / that Joy Luck Club watermelon scene / in Hong Kong people look like my relatives / Cameron D went to my high school / Wong Kar-Wai films will break your heart / Burmese tea leaf salad / older folks doing t’ai chi by the BART station / Keanu Reeves is part Chinese / in Hawaiian his name means “cool breeze over the mountains” / 213 vs 310 vs 562 / I would sincerely rock a cheongsam / a dog named panda / get up Jeremy Lin we love you / don’t trust a pho place without a number in its name / turkey jook after Thanksgiving / yellow Power Ranger / Claudia Kishi / James Iha / Michelle Kwan was robbed in the 98 Olympics / she is divorced & practicing at her ice rink / Fields of Gold forever / Mulan against the world / Chinese love cash
Peterborough, NH. October 2017
I grew up in Long Beach, California, one of the nation’s biggest ports and most diverse cities. But diversity alone does not preclude racism and racial isolation, and I was conscious from an early age about how I was being seen and not seen in the classroom and beyond.
I grew up in the 1980s, so I didn’t even have Mulan. I saw myself in glimpses—Claudia Kishi in The Babysitter’s Club, Kumiko in The Karate Kid Part II, The Joy Luck Club.
But I was lucky because I always had at least one friend of color, and, by high school, all of my friends were Asian. Long Beach Asian, as in Cambodian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Filipina, and Samoan. They were all second-generation Asian American and from the Westside. They had parents who came to the United States as immigrants after 1965, when the US opened the doors to people of all nationalities, eliminating the quota system favoring people from northern and western Europe. All of my friends had parents who were traumatized by war, genocide, occupation, and colonialization. As a fourth-generation Chinese American, I had privilege and grew up on the Eastside, near Orange County, in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood.
Being fourth-generation Asian American is rare. My great-grandparents came to the United States in the late 1800s to become entrepreneurs or work on the transcontinental railroad. Chinese immigrants were met with hostility and discrimination that escalated into violence and massacres. Lawmakers passed the first anti-immigration laws in US history with the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1886. The former sought to restrict Asian women from coming to America, as it was widely believed that they carried germs that would kill white people. The laws were meant to prevent Chinese immigrants from establishing families in the US, and they were successful. Few Chinese men were able to find Chinese wives, and they were forbidden to marry white women.
By great effort, travel, and trauma, my eight great-grandfathers found Chinese wives. My family carries a legacy of American survival and resistance. The US government and many of its people didn’t want us to exist. After the 2016 election, when white people said that they didn’t recognize the US, so many people of color answered this is what the US has always been.
I am writing to reach someone who wants to be known. I write what I don’t know and cannot know. What I do know is that I am grateful to live in a time when there are more people like me and we are finding each other, calling to one another, and lifting each other up. We are less alone.
I am familiar with occupying liminal spaces. I am Asian American whose life has been shaped by a long familial history of assimilation. I am queer, but as a femme I can pass as straight. In being unseen, I adapt to live. I am not static. This is an old story, the story of women, the story of people of color in the US, of queerness.
I write to re-vision the world and explore possibilities of being and becoming, to test my freedom within the field of the page. I write a poem with the hope that a reader will one day close the space and affirm its presence.
Part of the casual dehumanization of Asian Americans is being seen as the punch line, as nerds without feeling. After a reading, a poet once came up to me and said “I love your poems! They are so funny,” and I was happy to hear it (because they were!). I want to bring the whole of myself into my writing—my joy, my strangeness, my failure, my wonder.
We are lighting paths through language. The work continues.
Long Beach, CA. January 2018