Roommates

Tonight I crawl into your bed with you
and cry myself to convulsions,
and you say nothing as the earthquake
in my chest rocks us silently in the dark.

“Are you okay?” you ask, and no, I’m not,
I’m shaking my head like an aftershock.
I can’t talk. And you try to hold me still
as I try to hold myself together.

I want to tell you
that he’s different from us, you know.
He doesn’t have tectonic plates
beneath the skin, a ring of fire
in his eyes, or a fault line
in his nervous system,
like we do.
He’s different.

He’s not like us,
we’re so close, soul sisters
best friends,
almost lovers.

What does he have that I don’t?
That gives you solid ground at his home?

But I cannot speak,
I cannot breathe through the tremors,
So you stroke my hair until I calm,
And against all odds I survive disaster,
And revived, manage to crawl
back into my own bed,
across the room.

cheRRy

The way new yorkers
say cherry
or terrible
or how I imagine
they would say
merry christmas
if new yorkers said merry christmas.

It’s that slightly aggressive,
slurred double r in the middle:
cheRRy, teRRible, meRRy-fuck off-christmas.

Anyway, it’s one of the things
I like to hear on your tongue.

What do I think of your body?

What do I think of your body?

Your body is blood and muscle and bone.
Your body is sweat and tears and profusions.

Your body is a constantly-running
collection of happenings
performed through a million
chaotically-organized
little processes beginning
from the moment of your conception
and ending at the millisecond
of your death.

You body is phenomenal.

The phenomenon of you
for which I cannot
get enough.

Vase

I’m getting used to being ignored.
I’m getting used to not asking
for more.
I’m getting used to being
an afterthought.
I’m getting used to
not mattering,
anymore.
I’m getting used to it,
the numbing sense of distrust,
the numbing pain of unimportance,
the feeling of being a forgotten
ornament on a shelf you’ve stopped seeing
as you walk through your house.
I’ve gotten used to being
taken for granted,
inanimate,
unnoticed,
and unnoticeable
if moved,
or if broken, or
even if stolen from right beneath your nose.
I am a vase covered with dust
next to some knickknacks,
a souvenir, perhaps,
from a nice vacation from a long,
long, forgotten
paradise.

Sleeping with storms

You are
tongue tsk-tsking like unexpected rainfall
on a metal roof
sighing and grunting, rolling,
arms out in awkward angles
cracking displaced shoulders,
a loud and somewhat unsettling
sound, like lightning
and your low, rumbling snores
first quiet and slow,
are now crescendoing into
an angry fight for breath,
a manifesto
for the right
to live through the night.

And I am
reminded of evening tempests
from humid childhood summers,
tucked into darkness with too-hot covers,
listening to the nightly cacophony
turned lullaby
of anxious heat
returning to its forgiving earth,
the two reunited,
safe
and loved
and loving
and together in the storm.

You are
facing away from me
so I drape an arm around you
and you turn,
your breathing returns to normal
as you pull me close
into you

And we fall
soundly
back to sleep.

Fire at the office

I was not paying attention at work.
I was reading your latest messages,
holding in laughs,
reeling in the goofy girlish grins
that would give me away to my co-workers,
too ready to gossip about my fall in productivity.

And that’s when I smelled the smoke.

I could see the flames erupting like a realization all around me.
I could see you, burning my life away, one fax cover at a time,
one photocopy after another going up in sparks.

Fire at the office, shouldn’t we evacuate?

No. Let it burn the printers to a crisp,
melt the staplers into disfigured puddles,
sizzle and pop the wires and light bulbs,
the fuck have these florescents ever done for me, anyway?
What have they ever done for anyone?

Nothing,
compared to what you’ve done for me,

Nothing,
Compared to the bright little light
of your words on my phone.

Jessica

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,
Karen,
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
Pleasure,

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

Behold me:
For I am.

Corn

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.