Category Archives: Miscellaneous Poetry

Bilingualism

When my mother gets angry, her English switches into something in between English and Vietnamese, the words are English, but the grammar, the sentence structure, the twists and turns, the intonation is all Vietnamese.

And it is not because my mother is not fluent, oh no, she is the most intelligent woman I have ever known, and learning two languages is nothing more than breathing to her.

It is because Vietnamese is the language of her heart and soul, the language of her bones and her blood, the language that feeds the roots of her brain, and when she is angry, when emotion comes first and passion runs high, then it is this language that comes pouring out in every breath even when it’s English that leaves her lips.

When I am angry, I can barely speak, the words get caught in my throat, they get stuck somewhere and I don’t know why or how, but it’s usually stuttered or mangled English that comes through.

Even when English is the primary language I speak, Vietnamese is still the language of my heart and soul, my bones and blood, the roots of my brain, the language of the mother who brought me into this world, and even if it may not come out as naturally as speaking, somewhere in me it’s trying, and so the English gets caught along the way.


I knew this was home

When you knocked on my door, shy smile on your face, my heart skipped a beat, and it must have known before I though it even possible.

When we laughed for hours at the coffee shop, my eyes were kissed pink red, and my heart must have told them.

When my fingers rested in between yours, comfortable in the gaps, comforted by the weight, and they tightened on their own, and they must have known.

When my arm slipped around your shoulders, the laugh shaking around them whispered to me, “hey, you know what this is?”

When you pushed me up against the door and kissed my breath away, I realized I had been drowning, and your touch was my air, your hands were my anchor to land, your eyes were my lighthouse through the night, and I never wanted to stop breathing and finding you.

When the words slipped through your lips, I think I finally knew, even though your said “no, not yet,” your eyes said, “yes, yes, maybe I know too,” and I think I knew this was going to be home.

When I told you that I knew, and you said yes, and I said yes, and you spun me around, I knew this was home.


Poolside

Coconut tanning lotion filled my nose

As I laid on towel on hot lounge chair

Sun rays came down hot (too hot) on my skin

And I flipped over and over

Too bright to read Lolita on my back

Too uncomfortable to read on my stomach

But all to even out burning touch

From poolside to pool instead

Hot cement burning the soles of my feet

Dancer callouses do nothing to prevent burns

Cool water was savior

So I sat and floated and swam

And I stared at gentle waves and refracted light

Dead fly and dead leaves floating on its surface

Look down to clear blurry images of hands and feet

I held my breath and dipped under

Chlorine hurts the eyes less than salt

I breathed out precious oxygen bubbles

I sank further and further

Until I could look up and see burning sun

Rays could not touch me here

But escape from burn could not last forever

I surfaced

Dripping wet pulling self up onto hot cement

Cool water barely a shield

Wet towel on hot lounge chair

Damp hands holding Lolita

Burning rays drying back and hair

It’s too dark to read the French


Burnt

He said: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Damn right, it’s you. It was always you.

You were the first and I thought you would be the last, and it certainly felt like I was your only. But you weren’t and I wasn’t and we weren’t and we won’t be again.

I can burn every single one of your pictures and all of your presents to me and even the jackets that I stole from you, but I cannot burn the memories you have left behind or the feel of your hands on my skin or the taste of your lips in my mouth. I cannot burn away the fingerprints that you have left on the book that is my story. I cannot burn away your smell from my pillow or the sound of your laughter in my ears. I cannot burn off the phantom kisses left on my neck and shoulders. I cannot burn every article of clothing that you ever touched. I cannot burn the look of your face from the inside of my eyelids. I cannot burn your presence from my past. I can write your name down on slips of paper and burn them all and feed the ashes to the wind, but I cannot burn your name from the folds and wrinkles of my brain.

I can burn your letters into a bonfire and let the flames burn my skin and let the heat burn even my heart but all of it is too much and not enough, and you left me there to burn in the unforgiving sun, under the stares of countless strangers, as the tears made train tracks on my cheeks, and you walked away.

Once burned, twice shy.

Twice burned, and forever burnt.


Your name is poison

Your name is the assassin and the poison both, like Claudius to Hamlet Senior, you have poured liquid death into my ears and taken away my hearing and my happiness and every aspect of life, and I am left haunted, haunting, nothing but a specter of myself, and all I can do is scream into silence because no one will hear that it was you and your name.

Your name is like Taboo, the card game that I played with my cousins when I was a child, I can describe you and I can say everything about you, I can say teal and ocean and sky and almost green but not quite but I can’t say blue, I cannot say it in another language or say what it rhymes with, I cannot act it out, I cannot say it because if I do then it is game over and I am out.

Your name is like a dog whistle. I cannot help but attune to it, my ears cannot help but listen to it, it is at a frequency that I cannot ignore, all of my senses will turn my body towards the direction of its source, and I will stand at attention in case I hear it again, and it will unsettle me even in my dreams, even as I fill the night with sound of my howls, I cannot escape it.

Your name is the siren and her song. You call to me, the helpless sailor that I am. Your beauty draws in my eyes as your voice draws in my ears, and your name, your song slips into every nook and cranny of my being and takes control of my body as it pulls me to you, your name has taken over my willpower and pulls me into the unforgiving sea and pulls me under the waves, and I am drowning, I am drowning deeper and deeper to places where the sunlight cannot reach, but I am under your thrall and even though I am suffocating for breath, I cannot escape your name.

Do you get it yet? Do you understand that your name is impossible for me? Impossible to listen to, impossible to ignore, impossible for me to even say.

Your name will never again be spoken by me while my body lives, the consonants will not roll off my tongue, the vowels will not be shaped by my lips, I will never again have the taste of you in my mouth, I will never name my children any deviation of your name, it is lost to me, it is ruined for me.

But I will always remember the times when your name was the sweetest sound, the most beautiful word, the perfect complement to mine in tree trunks and notebook margins, and I would drink in your name as if it were the sweetest ambrosia.

But now it is nothing but poison.


Hey love

Hey love, do you remember when we were young? Even before we had met, we were already saying the same words and feeling the same emotions, and we just did not know it.

Hey love, do you remember when you were just another young single? In college and confused about everything?

I do. I remember it clearly. The summer before third year. It was a hot summer (as it always is in my hometown), and I had no car, nothing to do, no one I wanted to see, only my laptop and my dog and my bedroom. And I knew nothing. I was sure of nothing.

I had plenty to say. I knew what my major was, but not my career. I knew what my hobbies were, but not my true passions. I knew who I loved, but not who I was in love with. I had things I wanted to do, things I had planned, but nothing that I had done. But they would take me on dates and I could talk plenty, but it was never enough. My words filled nothing but empty space, and the more words I poured into space, the emptier it became.

But you were the same.

You were a gentleman, respectful and courteous and traditional, but of course never too posh because you were just as young and wild as I was. You threw your head back at all of my awful pick-up lines, and where I filled the space with words, you filled it with laughter. You had a job, but not a career. You had a home and a car, but no one to fill them with. You were a playboy but always so sweet to me anyway.

Hey love, remember when we threw all of that together? We never really figured out any of our confusion, but somehow, we made it work.

Hey love, remember when you saw your first grey hair? You complained about growing old, but your heart was still as young and wild as ever.

And so maybe we are old. Maybe we have kids and grandkids and aching joints and creaking bones and a house, once new, with faded white walls and stained pots and pans and clothes that are soft and loose, once denim and tight. Maybe we can no longer run around the park as fast as we can, arms thrown up and faces toward the sun, spinning and falling and grabbing hands. Maybe we wake up with the sun and sleep with it too, instead of defying every waking hour as we once did. Maybe our hair is all grey and white, and our skin is permanently wrinkled, and we have crow’s feet and laugh lines and frown lines and sagging skin everywhere.

Hey love, do you remember when I had to stay goodbye? You were fading, but with a smile on your face even as you left me for the last time.

Hey love, do you remember when I closed that wooden door for the last time? You were long gone, your insides no longer what I knew and no longer mine, but now stuffed and preserved with things I could never bear to think about it.

We were young singles then old couple and through it all I could talk and talk and talk and I knew exactly what to say and our kids and grandkids always got sick of me. But you never did.

But now there is no one left to hear me talk.

Hey love, when you left, did your soul leave your body and walk through me as I held your hand? Did you take my voice box with you when you walked away from this mortal Earth? Can I follow your ghost and leave behind this torturous silence?

Hey love, can we go back to when we were young?

(Inspired by a friend’s prose: “Old couple young single talking talk”)


The love I got instead

I wanted love.

I wanted the perfect fairy-tale, storybook fantasy of love.

I wanted the midnight serenades, the breakfast made in bed, the dinner served with wine, the red rose bouquets, the love poem notes.

I wanted the sunset car rides, the beach picnics, the two dogs and two kids, the white-picket fence house with a big backyard.

I wanted the frilly white wedding dress, the self-written vows, the cake on our faces, the toasts that made us cry, the small family wedding.

I wanted the love that everyone on earth has talked about and written about and sang about and had.

But that’s not what I got.

I didn’t get the perfect package of love that I was always told that I would get – if I just waited long enough, the perfect person would come my way.

No, I didn’t get the perfect person.

I got you, and I don’t think anyone could ever come closer.

I got the off-tune singing in the shower, the burnt sunny-side-up eggs, the dry chicken served with a sheepish smile, the white orchids (because that’s my middle name), the texts that said “Love you baby.”

I got the traffic-laden car rides home from the beach, a cooler of drinks but no snacks because we both forgot, no dogs and no kids because we’re too young, and separate apartments because we’re at different stages in our life.

I didn’t even get talks about marriage because we’re far far far from there.

Our love isn’t the perfect story where you sweep me off my feet after waking me with true love’s kiss. Our love isn’t that of Romeo and Juliet or Wall-E and Eve. Our love is more like two wolf clubs playing together – we bite but we don’t know how harsh our teeth are, we wrestle because we want to come out on top, we’re young and immature, but we’re cute and fluffy and full of a thirst for life, and we have the potential to be so much more.

I didn’t get the love I had always dreamed about. I got something better.

(And I know you’re going to complain about how damn cheesy I am, but I know you feel the same).