Jessica: Rich. God beholds.

Once upon a time,
A boy I felt very fondly for
Told me
You’re cute,
But Jessica,
Jessica is beautiful.

And now,
Years later,
The most beautiful
Boy I know
Tells me,
You are
The most beautiful
Girl in the world.

The most beautiful girl
in the world.

And I smile quietly and feel,
My heart swelling into an aching

A strange pride
I have never felt before
In my 22 years as a Karen

Behold me:
For I am.


Growing Pains

As a kid,

I used to chew my straw
into a plastic pulp,
a frayed sprawling flag
to mark my dominion
above juice boxes
or chocolate milks or
various vibrant-colored
hummingbird syrups.

But now, chomping down hard
on my stainless steel, eco-friendly,
dishwasher-safe reusable straw,
a sharp pain buzzes
up my incisors into cheekbone,
the sip of iced americano—black–
bitter, cold, and a little bit acidic.

Difficult to swallow.


Back before the flattening of cemeteries
or the building of emergency roads,
when outside our home grew
sugar cane fields I barely remember,

My mother,
chopping corn in the kitchen
for a soup upon my request,
misses the strike
and pushes down hard
not on the golden flesh
of Nebraska’s finest,
but on her left fingers, instead.

While I, oblivious soup-requester,
stay with an auntie upstairs,
she wraps her hand in cloth
and treks through the now-forgotten sugar cane fields,
climbing a wall to cut through
the now-flattened cemetery
for the nearest hospital,
where they sew her up right quick,
and she walks right back home
the same way.

And to think that in these days
of roads and ready-made soups,
there are those who eat corn off the cob in chunks,
sweet patches forgotten
right on the cob.

for the anniversary of my grandfather’s memorial

Let me construct for you some images.

I am five years old. I am watching my grandfather drink tea at a large wooden table surrounded by a floor of rocks. This is the place where everyone drinks tea, where everyone sits and talks, cracking watermelon seeds between their conversations. My grandfather takes a slow sip from his cup. “Ahhhhh…” he says. I take a sip from my juice. “Ahhhhh…” I echo. This is the way we drink tea and juice, my grandfather and me.

I am nine old. I am sculpting with my grandfather. He shows me how to make a clay fish. Flatten the clay, fold it over, pinch apart the lips, fins and scales. He tells me my fish is too skinny, they are supposed to be big-bellied fish. But I tell him I want my fish to be long and thin so it can swim fast through the water. He tells me to make my fish however I want.

I am fifteen years old. I am upstairs in my grandparent’s attic, watching as my grandfather shows me how to blend skies on a canvas with blue and white paint. It’s all about the gradual gradient, don’t go too quickly, he tells me. Slow, slow it down. Don’t think too much.

I am twenty years old, and home from college for the summer. I hear my grandfather singing as he waters the garden in a large hawaiian shirt. He walks slowly and deliberately, taking in the beauty of each flower, which he lets grow in all directions. I wish him a good morning. He responds, “Karen, Good Morning!” and continues singing.

During his life, my grandfather constructed images in paints, rocks, ink, and clay. He brought to life characters. Singers and lovers, dancers, mothers and nuns. He brought to life moments. A walk through the fields in the fall, the wind rustling through golden fields. I do not have his same talent, but I hope I’ve painted for you an image of what he taught me, of what he meant to me as a grandfather, as an artist, and now a muse.

Today, I am twenty-two years old. I am away in America for my last year of college, and I am not there for my grandfather’s memorial. My heart is broken, but I will take long sips of tea. I will make my life skinny and long or round and fat, it doesn’t matter. I will move slowly through the changes, and not over think. My grandfather was a painter, a sculptor, and a calligrapher, but he was also a teacher. Many of you here today know him as Teacher Su, and although I called him grandfather, I am no exception. These are the lessons my grandfather taught me, and these are the images I will always cherish.


If I were an empty notebook,
I would be made of hardy leather.
The front cover would be thicker than bone
and the back cover alone able to hide
my empty thoughts better than any diary lock.

And If I were an empty notebook, the recycled paper inside
would be breath thin and smell like untold stories,
the dog-eared folds of unfinished goals marking the chapters.

But If I were an empty notebook, and you were the writer,
I’d let you flip through the pages, and feel the softness of my skin,
the same leather that others might have thought cruel, or coarse,
but of course to you, would soften in your hands.

And if I were your notebook,
I would no longer be an empty notebook
for you could write your name on the first page in ink,
and let your secrets slide off your shoulder
into my pages for safekeeping.
You could fill me with your jokes and thoughts,
photos and ticket stubs from planes and plays,
brochures picked from public libraries and museums.
You could write the pain and joy and love
of everyday, of every second,
and hungrily, I would soak it up,
holding the moments of our life together,
all the leaves of our time forever,
with nothing but my old and well-worn spine.

On the train

On the train after a long overdue visit to my grandfather,
I look out the window and see a cemetery in the distance,
a human presence in artificial rock climbing an overgrown hill,
its granite steps to heaven falling short by a couple feet.

These stones and their tenants sleep as we speed away,
and I turn my attention back inside the carriage.
There is warmth and light here, and sound.

Are we there yet?

The weakening heartbeat of tired wheels flatline
at an intermediate station. Some passengers alight,
lighting a cigarette as they step back into their lives.
Others board and take their empty seats
and we all check our phones, religiously,
for the time.

How much longer do we have?

Then the train, slow as an illness, grinds to a new start,
continuing on its journey as if nothing had changed.

Old Flame

Sitting here on a stone bench after a lukewarm second date, watching the dog busy herself in a square of park, I think back to the sting of hot smoke in my lungs at a hookah bar in New York City some six months ago. A young man was singing along to the music while two girls listened to his side, and as I watched from across the table. The lights were purple, or so they seem when their flashing smiles reflected off the blue plumes exhaled from their cherry lips. What a pretty picture. They asked for a picture, the girls, and he told them they were a picture. They laughed, teeth white as ice in the room’s humid lilac and he snapped a drunken blur–from our two beers and rum and cokes–yet the women were radiant in the lens’ lazy capture. They sang along with him, throats bare and vibrating to the beat. But yet there I was, interrupting, not knowing the lyrics. But yet there I was, dumpy, unpolished, humany, sliding between him and the liquid women with hard muscles and harder curls. But yet there I was, unworthy, in the blue smoky world of the beautiful, hand on his chest, hoping to push the chirping nymphs from his mind, pulling the white champagne-flavored ash from his tongue, breathing in smoke and sweat and exhaling a most painful hope into the space behind his ears. The glittering ladies, disinterested, had dissolved into clouds, returning to their giggling conversations, leaving me with a demigod I didn’t deserve. The dog licks my ankles. Time to move on, she whines, to the next park, to our apartment in this city so much smaller than New York. I stand from the stone bench, the imprint of hard edges on my thighs, the weight of unsatisfactory carbonara sloshing in my stomach. That was six months ago, the divine boy, the pretty picture. There’ve been other men since then, over other drinks, or in mediocre Italian restaurants over forced conversation. Men as human as myself. Ah well, might as well head home, send a half-hearted “I had a great time,” then light a cigarette. My fingers crave a slow burning.


At this precise moment I close my eyes
and on the insides of my lids,
I paint a map, of everything:

I paint the physical universe,
its enormous stars’ dead light, in white,
and then outline in pencil, the most miniscule flowers
both blossoming and rotting, regardless.
I cut and paste like in a scrapbook, the various versions of history,
as well as every evolution of every living or once living thing.
I even color both inside and outside the lines of gravity,
with a crayon, in case you were wondering,
and to be exact, I measured out all the realities
both parallel and perpendicular,
with a wooden ruler.

And now with it all behind my eyes,
dotted and ex’ed and complete with navigational symbols,
when I’m lost, tomorrow on my way back from work,
or in the next life in a tiger’s midlife crisis (as one can hope),
I’ll follow my way back, across this work of art,
skipping over ink and graphite and glue,
slipping into something akin to this very moment.