neither savior nor survivor

6.19.19

for the womxn
who does not want
[to be] a hero.

you do not need [to be] one.

for the womxn
who will not
fight in public,
will not make
statements for the court,
will not let the burden of proof
bruise her more
than the battle over her body.

i see you.

for the womxn
who will never know
justice
because justice
is complicated,
is not clear-cut,
is not ex-boyfriends
behind bars,
is not strangers
on trial,
is not what
the law says.

i hear you.

for the womxn
who says she is okay
when she is most definitely not
okay,
i will feign ignorance,
if that is what you need.

i will never force you to admit
something you don’t want to,
never coerce you into
opening up your heart.

trust does not come
that easily.

for the womxn
who know all too well
what this poem
is about,
i will not pretend to know anything
except to know that
i will always believe you
because i know that you
believe me too.

– sister

safe.

i’m not sure how to do this anymore.

i keep thinking about how absolutely unfair it all is.

do people ever remember the things they do if it didn’t viscerally impact them, but it altered someone else’s personhood?

i don’t ever want to give the past and people who have hurt me that much power. what does that say about me?

i’m so tired of going back to this, but what else can i do except write?

i can be happy and relaxed, but out of no where, i just feel so small and sad that men always take things without our permission.

i think the hardest part about it all is that i compartmentalize my life in ways that make it nearly impossible for me to be fully honest with the people i love.

i am so angry, so angry, so angry.
and then on some days, i am okay.
i am happy, even.
i wouldn’t be this person without that hurt.

this poem is dedicated to the men who have hurt me in big ways and small. i’m not happy with it yet, but like life, it’s a work-in-progress.

Safe.
4.30.19


i have never felt safe with a man–
not since you.
not since early morning, glazed eyes, limp arms, heavy heart,
soul-floating.
 

out of body experiences are not
always
euphoric.

i have not felt safe since
5 months of acting–
brave face,
plastered smiles,
heart-racing, fingers laced
l o v e,
we called it.
my performance was so convincing
i nearly believed it too.

i have not felt safe since
dark club nights,
white fingers, condescension,
alcohol and swaying and not enough time to say
no.

i have not felt safe since
hot hands, clocks ticking,
cars and traffic and too much noise,
shallow breaths,
followed by months of silence.

when i think about
the fear i feel,
i also think that
living in safety
does not mean we are
where we belong.

sometimes a poem
is a placeholder
for the next hurt,
because there is always
a next time.

sometimes it is shock absorption,
a place to lay your head,
a salve for throbbing hearts.

sometimes,
the poem becomes a swan song,
becomes a fight,
helps you route your way
to happy,
to closing doors,
to safety.

 

if they come for me

if they come for me,
don’t cry on the television.
don’t let them tell you
not to make it
political.

when a white man,
who is angry and believes
i have taken
something from him,
walks into a
classroom,
grocery store,
church,
nightclub,
synagogue
and shoots with reckless abandon,
know that this could have been
prevented.

if they come for me,
search my computer,
look through my phone,
scour my social media accounts
for proof that i was here.

when the media
tries to demonize me,
and the public lets them,
you can try to defend me
and remind them that i was
human
too.
you will probably fail.
they already know what they believe.
they have already won.
i am dead, after all.

if they come for me,
hold each other close.
laugh about the things i said.
talk about the dreams i had.
eat all of my favorite foods.

when people organize to march,
prepare for the worst.
there will always be a worst.
more grief,
more anger,
more fear.

if they come for me,
do not leave flowers where
my body was found.
do not speak my name in hushed tones.
do not make it a battle cry
either.

when my family holds a service,
let them grieve in peace.
do not wear red.
on New Year’s, you can
wash your hair and
sweep the floor.
all the luck has left us
anyway.

if they come for me,
you can be angry,
confused,
overwhelmed.
loss will do that.
remember to breathe,
even if i am not.

when enough time has passed,
speak.
write.
make them listen.
do not let them come for another.

if they come for me,
what will you say?

if they come for me,
let them point fingers.
they will label it “mental health”,
forget the word “terrorist”
because his skin is pale.

if they come for me,
you will know the truth.
you will wish you could have
protected me from men
who hate me
because i am me.

the war is far from over.

make change.
do not be quiet.
let them hear how
loss sounds.
let them see how
seeds grow.

you are coming for them now.

when the talkative become speechless: a.k.a words are important and we should learn to use them more

For as long as I can remember, I talked. Words would fall from my mouth like mahjong tiles clanging against the old wooden coffee table at my 奶奶 and 爺爺’s house after my brother and I fashioned them into tall towers—we didn’t actually know how to play mahjong the right way.

I don’t know what my first word was.

Probably “meat”, which is highly ironic considering my fifth year of pescatarianism.

I just remember yapping for hours on end, telling stories, asking questions, making up games. My mom and 婆婆 would tell me not to talk so much during dinner because the food would get cold. Of course, I never listened. There was just too much to express before bedtime, and my brother was always a keen listener.

Maybe that’s why we got on so well.

As I grew up, I quickly learned that my voice had meaning, power. Being outspoken meant being listened to. It made me feel valuable. I’m lucky in that there had never been a time in my life where I felt like I couldn’t use my voice or like the thoughts I formed into coherent sentences didn’t matter.

Then,

I moved across the country. I left behind my family of keen listeners. I traded my words for safety, as if the silence could protect me from feeling so alone.

I have never felt as voiceless or as powerless as I have while in my first year of my Ph.D. program. I went from being a person who chats non-stop, who always has an opinion, who knows what she believes and ardently expresses those beliefs, to being silent and doubtful. I felt like a stranger in my own head. Every time I wanted to say something in class or in a conversation with peers, I stopped myself. I thought about what others would think of me.

I’ll be honest. I don’t think my voicelessness was initially conscious. At first, I thought being quiet and observant would be helpful to understand my new surroundings. But, over time, I felt there was an aura of overall unwelcomeness that I couldn’t put into words, much less give a response to. Silence seemed easier than questioning. And then, the silence became so loud to me, that I just resigned to giving up. Participating in class felt more scary than folks assuming I was unprepared or unintelligent.

Being a “minority” in a doctoral program is hard. It fucking sucks. It feels like nothing you do will mean anything, and if it does, people will assume you got to where you are because you’re filling a quota. It seems easier to keep your cards hidden.

I didn’t realize how much I missed talking until I lived in New York for the first half of the summer and visited home in California for the last. The feeling that Genie has when being released from his lamp–that’s what it felt like. I could breathe and speak words into existence, and I just felt so goddamn free, it was overwhelming. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else, or think twice about what implications my words would have on how seriously I was taken as a graduate student. I didn’t have to whisper, “I’m good enough” to myself at night or think it constantly in my head during the day.

When I got back to Pennsylvania, I was beside myself. I thought about how it felt to be voiceless just several short months prior, and I couldn’t handle it. I called my mother crying and in a panic. I told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I said that no one here understands, that the feeling of being alone is so consuming, that I missed home and having people speak to me and me speak to them. I believed it before, but even more so now, that human beings need communication, to be understood and validated.

I do have the most wonderful of parents. They encourage me and tell me it’s okay, and they say the words I need to hear in the very few moments I have none. They told me that it’s okay to come home, that they wouldn’t be disappointed in me.

But, this is a new year. I’m telling myself that the only person I need to impress is me (cue the indie coming-of-age film soundtrack). I’m starting fresh and trying to relearn my way back to the girl who stacked up mahjong tiles, who made up stories, who happily told her kindergarten teacher that her favorite place to go in the world was Macy’s with her mom. I have a lot to say, and maybe this year, I’ll finally feel comfortable/confident/capable enough to speak.

 

 

a conversation between sides

you ask
how sacrifice
builds.

you ask
how loss
strengthens.

you ask
how broken
people
mend other
broken people.

keep asking,
and i will show you

my mother
and her pharmacy degree
tucked away in a home office.

my father
and how he leads in a room
where my grandfather’s voice still
rings.

my yinyin and yeye
and plastic flowers
we put near gravestones.

my popo
and how she refuses
to leave the house
my mom bought for her.

you ask
how is this a dream.

keep asking,
and i will show you

photo albums, army trunks, mahjong tiles.

keep asking,
and i will show you

rain-damaged letters, ink-stained newspapers, calligraphy brushes.

keep asking,
and i will show you

rice flour, reused pie tins, boiling water.

you ask
isn’t this America?

keep asking,
and i will say
this is the America i know.

keep asking,
and i will say
this is the life we have made.

keep asking
and i will want to show you
to the door.

instead i ask,
what does your America look like?
how different does your love look?
what does your America have that i cannot find in mine?

when things aren’t good.

i carry fear
like breadcrumbs;

leave a trail behind
so i know
how to get back to
broken.

there will be a time
for maps
later.

there will be a time
for arrows pointing
north.

there will be a time
for warm lighting,
soft pillows,
writing our feelings.

but for now,
there is dark.
there is cold.
there is never-ending
silence.

for now,
there are bedsheets.

for now,
there are silver spoons,
frozen fingers,
half-eaten pints of ice cream.

for now,
there are tear-soaked
sleeves

for now,
there is sleep.

and when the morning comes
here,
it is still dark.
it is still cold.
it is still silent.

entitled.

i have choked
on questions–
felt lumps in my throat,
gasped for air and clawed at words

on mattresses,
in living rooms,
on doorsteps,
in bathrooms.

questioned my own
power,
will,
worth.

was made to think
that another’s
desire
trumped
my dignity.

thought that “no means no”
and “yes”
was “yes”, full stop.

and so,
i did not know how to
explain away
my discomfort;

reassured myself
that it was
timing,
temporary,
an instance in a sea of
options.

tried to give excuses
for why men
always
take
without
asking.

there is something
so soul-crushing, heartbreaking, stomach-turning
about living in this body.

i wonder
why we continue
hoping or loving or forgiving
at all.

maybe there is something to be said
about the strength
of a womxn.

but even that strength
men feel
entitled to.

for once
can’t we have something
that is just
ours?