The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak

I began writing poetry in earnest around 2016 and 2017. I'd always loved reading and writing in some form, but writing poems specifically came much later. Reading these poems again now, I suspect that this is the reason the themes in the collection vary so much—I hadn't been able to process so many different events in my life until I started writing poems!

I believe it was the wonderful writer Ocean Vuong who said the act of reading a poem out loud gives it a new life, that "the air is a second page." For me, the act of writing these poems down gave not only my memories (especially the sad and angry ones), but also me, much-needed new lives. In a sense, it released me from them, and them from me. 

How to Get over the Fear of Public Speaking

My father is a good  Christian man who speaks with the kind  of grace that can rouse  three hundred souls, even during the pauses, even when he’s taking a  breath. Cantonese slips  on eloquence like a cheung sam dress as it leaves  his tongue. Have you ever seen a congregation  inhale as one, straighten its shoulders  like an orchestra brought to attention?

My father has a voice like a train rushing headlong over the tracks near our church. My father’s voice was made for the gavel. My father’s voice gathers clouds. Be ye angry, and sin  not: Let not the sun go  down upon your wrath.

When I was a child, my father and I fought and my voice would cower,  play Peter, deny me  though it loved me. My voice                                       would get lost, never find its way out of the safety of my lips. My voice was not made  for war. It had       the shakes  and a fear  of crowds.

Now, when I call upon my voice, I tell it this: Let them hear me. I am      my father’s daughter.

The Lies That Bind

We don’t know how old Grandma is. She stole a few extra years in Toishan to work in Hong Kong— an early birthday  gift for a hungry house.

Now her age is another secret with no answer, like what’s really  in her delicious jellyfish sauce and why have I never brought a boy home.

My grandmother’s tongue bends time, stretches the years like practiced hands pulling pushing kneading dough                               into a shape agreeable 

to her memory. She’s been telling me she’s ninety       proudly for the last six years.

She asks       again when she will get to eat beng, if I’ve met any good men, when she will have her cup of cha . I wonder if the truth  would scald or soothe I try to remember if she’s 91  or 92; I think of the woman I love and I say, Soon, Grandma. Soon.

Into the Spell

When we leave / the fortress of El Morro at sunset / a rainbow of / Havana-bound taxis curl /  round the gate, waiting / for los malditos turistas  to make up their minds   Ten pesos? Vamos, ten pesos—

A fifties Ford pulls up beside us / top down / an American  classic / in the wrong country / wrong century / holding  the past and present awkwardly together / like how the taped-up door handle  clings / to the panel for dear life and / somehow / stays on—

I think about Uber and cabs / with air conditioning back home  and I don’t / miss them.

This one is soft / blue, a cloudless sky before it  bleeds / pink into balmy dusk / and then we’re flying into the spell / of the swelling moon / and then we’re falling  into the Túnel de la Bahía / swallowed  by the womb / again / and then we disappear / into salt  air / Icarus would’ve lived / if he chose the night.

I give up trying / to fix my hair / tangled in whispers / ghosts  of passengers past / we emerge from the darkness / thrust into life—

Havana unfurls / before us / twilight bloom / dama de noche / ] a girl like me has no business taking a / bride this beautiful.

At Your Best

It is Friday night and we are at home  on the couch, your head on my shoulder, a well -worn path. This is not the first time you have slowed my hours and yet how the seconds gasp to be doing nothing at all but feeling the universe  wax content in your breath.

It is Saturday night and we’ve left our other lovers  in a lull -aby moon that croons beneath a dusty frame  like a memory of the sun that offers no warmth.  There is only the green  of your eyes ringed with gold, as clear as a summer stream, and I feel  as if I will never thirst again.

It is Sunday morning and the spell remains unbroken, I trace you  in what’s left of stardust. Another leaf has  burst forth from our English ivy. I can’t remember  when I gave the sun back his hours but now  I am at peace with the world and its unloveliness. Yes,  I think would be happy doing this every night of my life.