for the Hà Tinh victims.

10.27.19

on trucks,
in boats;
across deserts,
unruly waves;
hidden between spaces,
trunks
locked away.

they had dreams
too.

as i type this,
from the safety of my home,
a land i was born to,
in a city i could fly to,
passing security checks,
my screen
is as glaring
as her phone’s
must have been—
light in a dark
lorry.
salvation in a space
for the damned,
the ones deemed
replaceable
invisible,
a portal to
a life left behind.

now, as i sit here,
the air is crisp,
cold.
a rain followed by unending sunlight
i wonder how many hours passed
for them in darkness,
stale air,
whimpering, cracking fingers.
how many texts did they send?
how many prayers were sent up to the sky only to
crash against tin walls around them?

they say,
“in death,
we are free.”

maybe their souls are able to wander freely over
the roads they once travelled.

their bodies are shipped back to loved ones.
free passage for the dead.
border patrol doesn’t care when the life has left,
when the blood is dry.
a debt is repaid.
£25,000 pounds for a dead daughter,
for broken families,
for eternal grief.

what is the price for
a gentler death?

for those who get to
keep breathing,
we are left
to wonder
what if
we
let
people
live.

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

a poem for my mom – 5.12.19

媽媽, 沒有你我該怎麼辦。我愛你啊 。

when other moms
took their children
to the zoo
or the museum,
my mother took me to
Macy’s.

i would play hide and seek
in between the circular
metal racks,
slide my tiny arms between
blouses,
dance my way
between high heels
that i was sure
i would never grow into.

sometimes,
when mommy would pile
clothes onto her arms
and bring them into the
fitting room,
i would shuffle in behind her,
sit on the tiny bench meant for
putting down your purse and
plastic card with black bolded numbers
that never fit
on the door handle.
i learned how to be patient
on those trips.

when other moms
took their children
to the park
or watched them
run in the yard,
my mother took me to the
pharmacy.

i would sit on tall
wooden stools
meant for grown people with
grown legs
and fast-typing fingers.
i would watch the technicians
pull bottles from shelves
and place them in bubble packs.
i learned how to send a fax
in that pharmacy.

sometimes,
when mommy was really busy,
i would pace back and forth in the
hallway, to the kitchen,
and back to mommy’s office.
i learned how to
black out confidential information,
savored the moments when i was
considered
responsible enough
to put stickers on packages and line them up in
bags for delivery to
carehomes around the city.

when other moms
could be home,
and talk to their children
about their days,
my mother
was at the pharmacy,
or the hospital.

i would wonder,
why were these people
who were not me
more important?
i never asked,
and she never brought it up.
i learned how unspoken things
can hurt too.

sometimes,
when mommy was working late,
and could not come home
in time for dinner,
dad cooked.
he did that a lot.
when this happened,
sometimes, but not all the time,
i would be
angry with her.
i would call her cell phone,
the pharmacy, her cell again,
leave a voicemail.

i just wanted her
home.

i remember nights
sitting in the dining room,
waiting for the sounds of
the garage squeaking open.
i played this game by myself,
ran to unlock the door before
i could hear the jingle of her keys.

when other moms
told their children to
go to bed,
my mother let me
stay awake with her as she
ate what was leftover.

i would sit across the
table
and put things on my plate,
so she wouldn’t
eat alone.
maybe that’s why i am
always hungry
late into the night.

sometimes,
when mommy told me
to get ready for bed after eating
a second time,
i would drag my feet,
lay on the couch and tell her
i needed to digest because i didn’t
want to leave yet.
i learned how to love someone
without saying it on those nights.

mommy and i only started
saying we loved each other
in the last couple years,
when our armor was down,
after we let ourselves
laugh about things that hurt us before.
we are close in a way
only a daughter can be with her mother.
i am not angry
or hurt
or sad
anymore—
just grateful that i have a mother
who loved me enough
to bring me wherever she
needed to be
and still thought of me
when she couldn’t.

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?