A poem for my sister-in-law…

below heaven

for meliss

 

let me throw you in the pacific:
not your ashes, but this memory of us

that never happened. when you died
on the day of my birth, this wasn’t

the sun. it wasn’t the moon or the earth
or expanding sea. it was just this:

a bridge between life and death.
the moment i found you facedown

your heart stopped, and mine broke, too.
maybe that day in may never happened,

maybe we never heard those wedding bells,
maybe we couldn’t run away just like

my brother to vegas, where the sun swallowed
the desert pavement, or run away like my mother

all the way to america, where the demands
of familia were but thousand of miles away

because of this—this cavity in the heart.
this walang hiya, this shame.

here, i give you this—this need, this object
you may call shame

because i divorced the man who abused me.
because i became pregnant at 21.

because i humiliated my family.
because i walked to the front of the church

head covered, palms inward, to confess:
i am shame.

instead, i think of the day i found you:
head upward, body cold, heart stopped,

veins burst. instead, i relive this day
that never happened. i throw everything

cries, shakes, this cavity in the heart
into the sea.

i stand on cliffs near a seaside city
and empty out my shame for you.

i walk down the aisle, between frozen marbled
statues from greece, the sun shining through

the stain-glassed ceilings. i take step after step
toward you, below heaven.

i marry you in death.
i marry you instead because i choose to.

i choose to lose my shame. i choose lose
everything; i already lost it all.

so, here, i regrow it,
in this museum near the pacific.

the sun meets me again, and it says:
i do.

 

terrifying.

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“i think who you are is everything. and so when who you are is invisible, butchered, undesirable, and so on, it can do a lot of damage. so being a brown woman growing up in the west, where the ideal woman was white, sent me on a terrifying journey.” rupi kaur

I haven’t been myself lately.

I haven’t mentioned this to many, only my intimate partner, who is thousands of miles away on a metal carrier in the Persian Gulf. It is frightening how far away he is. And after I hit 25, these past two years—of him being here, of him being gone—have been compounding. It’s hard to admit it, even to write it, but during the past years, the past months, my C-PTSD has rippled through my body more than it ever has before. Or maybe it is because I started therapy—because I started this terrifying journey into healing, healing this body, healing this psyche, healing myself—because my illness is no longer a unseen ghost, it is now rearing its head and has made my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression terrible culprits of its existence. There are days when I would wake up and stare in the mirror, imagining the woman’s glaring face melting off. This is what you call depersonalization.

Every morning has been a silent battle. I get up, wash my face, take a shower, brush my teeth, get my clothes on, put on my make-up—my made-up face, which is a ritual I’ve come to love, a ritual that builds my pretense, a shield, a way to cope through the day, a way to act as if things are fine, a way to combat anxiety, a way to say I am in control of something, even if it is my melting face—and somehow survive the traffic on the 405 to get to work.

I know I am lucky to be back in Los Angeles. I am lucky to be able to return home, live in the extra room at my father’s small apartment. I am lucky to have won the Poets & Writers fellowship, I am lucky to be working with amazing, radiant people in the literary world, I am lucky to be living, I am lucky to have found kindred spirits, people I can truly call friends, familia, I am lucky to be breathing.

But it’s hard.

L.A. has a way of fucking up your sense of direction, dizzying your perceptions, burning up your desires by making you stuck in traffic for years.

My mind melts because of the traffic.

So, what I’ve been doing lately is taking refuge in art museums.

It started when I was in Hawaii. When I had a big fight with my father.

At the Honolulu Art Museum, I came across these large words plastered on the wall, like it were a gift:

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What do you say in response to this? To surviving?

This is a strange blog post, because I am in a strange place.

I don’t know where I quite am anymore.

I am battling the deepest of my insecurities.

I am letting myself open. This past week, I let another person, besides my intimate partner, in—I revealed to her parts of my self I never show others, my crazy worries, my anxiety, reached out for help on a terrible bad, bad day of anxiety, and she was incredibly healing, a friend I have found and am so shocked to have found. Doing this—being open—is something that scares the shit out of me, something that is was will always be terrifying. When I called her, this was repeating and repeating in my mind: Wow, I can’t believe this I can’t believe this I can’t believe this you’ve actually letting someone in you’re letting someone in.

It was a good voice. More so saying: This is strong for you.

Strength. It’s something I’ve lost since I’ve moved back to L.A., something I’ve been trying so hard to build.

I’ve been realizing that L.A. could never really be home again, but it will always be the place of my birth.

And with all its contradictions, it holds for me what it means to be an immigrant daughter.

Adrift and unanchored.

And I have been writing. Slowly. There have been blockages. Mental. I’ve been fermenting. Interviewing. Reaching running plunging my hand in the deepest of my memories; it’s why I haven’t been quite myself. Home means facing all the fractured traumas that occurred here, bled and dipped into the horizon, the landscape, the streets. I can drive by that house on Dolores Street and see all my grandmother’s hard work, flowers, wall of cacti, dissolved. Gone. I’m slowly writing it out. I’m trying hard to be gentle. I’m trying hard to let egos slide off. I’m trying hard to find myself again. To not clasp the melting skin but let it fall, let my face be anew, fresh again, have this burning so I am returned, nascent, here.

 

Today, because I couldn’t write, I visited the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach. I thought it was pretty crazy how I grew up just a few miles from this beautiful space and this was the first time I visited. There was an exhibit there, called “The River Paintings,” by Victor Hugo Zayas. What struck me the most was the opening film by MOLAA, where an unnamed filmmaker interviews Victor on their drive to the L.A. River. They walk into its muddy waters, its almost burnt up, dried up canal. Victor talks about how he can no longer be an artist that paints a landscape just for the sake of it. How this was the mark of his growth as an artist. How this behemoth, this urban monolith—L.A.—has failed to notice the slithering river that travels, disrupts through it. He says: Water is life. Since the beginning, cities were always built by water. 

I sit here in this new, trendy coffeeshop in Long Beach, the Brass Lamp, and think of the body that was found in the L.A. River in 2011.

That body was a black body.

That body was my friend’s body.

That body belonged to a brilliant UC Berkeley student, who loved lumpia, who grew up with a lot of pinays as friends, who interned for Barbara Boxer, who loved being queer, who had a Baptist family who loved him—but—they were Baptist, who was raped by a doctor at the UC Berkeley student medical center, who who who who who…

This list could go on.

I think of the L.A. River. I think of this never-ending drought. I think of my melting face. I think of Zayas’s melting paintings. I think of my beloved friend’s body. I think of the rollings hills of dried grass and the expansive Pacific roaring besides us and the cliffs of Palos Verdes and the snaking freeways and the scorching sun, the scorched earth.

I have not been myself lately. It’s appropriate. I have been burning off this ego, this persona that is not me. I think of the research I’m doing right now. I think of these old, medical documents that detail my grandmother’s brain surgeries. I think of the phone call I had with a kind neurologist who explained to me these documents slowly, paragraph by paragraph, word by word, and this image stays: They burned the vessels to stop the bleeding. This is normal.

I say to myself: This is normal. Burning my face—burning the recognition of my face—burning my old identity—burning my million of identities—this is normal. This stops the bleeding. The agitated heart. The anxiety building rippling through my veins.

I return to poetry, often, when I am this lost. To poets. To the words of poets. I think of rupi kaur’s words: “sent me on a terrifying journey.” It’s been terrifying. Terrifying still. But like the river that’s keeps flowing, despite the sun, I swallow it up. I think of my grandmother’s words: small but terrible. I go to her grave, on these green hills facing single-family homes sprinkled about and the sea, and I eat this sandwich I made the night before, I play a song by The Kinks, I cry, I hold my face, I answer the sky, I become the grass, I imagine falling deep beneath the dirt, lie besides my grandmother’s bones, and it is there, in this terrifying wake, in the coolness of the earth, where I hold her bones and she holds me back. It is here, here, where I find myself again.

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Old haunts, city of dreams

I just felt all of Dolores longing and desperation for an out, for love, for kindness, and it’s so true, no one can understand how much we want to be loved, no one but the dead.

Nghiem Tran, Kundiman fellow, on my short story, “Dead Girl in the Bed,” published in Amazon’s Day One.

I’m very excited to share my story, “Dead Girl in the Bed,” something I forgot to do on my writing blog, especially now that Day One has come out with another issue with the fabulous fiction writer, Kali Fajardo-Anstine.

It’s taken me five years to write this story. It’s a little surreal—to have it out in the world, living and breathing and kicking all on its own. On certain days, my anxiety wants to eat me all up—I think: what if no one reads it? And to be honest—probably no one will. Regardless, I am damn proud of its publication, but most of all, I’m incredibly moved by what my fellow Kundiman writer said of my piece (posted above).

no one can understand how much we want to be loved, no one but the dead.

Such deft truth. I balled when my dear friend sent me this. I don’t know how to thank him enough for these words.

I’m too exhausted to write anymore, which I should… About my time in Italy (or more appropriately called, My first time in Europe, which was both exhilarating, painful, but wonderfully tensed), about what’s it like being home (which is exhausting), about what’s it like to be working at Poets & Writers (which is wonderful), about what’s it like to re-suffer L.A. traffic (which is terrible and dreadful), about what’s it like to return to a city so filled with haunts that I consider Mulholland Drive an ironic but incredibly accurate depiction of my life—all of it, especially in its crazed ambitions.

I had these big dreams while flying back to LAX that I would write a beautiful blog piece with Nghiem’s moving and touching quote as the epigraph… But.

I’m tired. I have nothing grand to say. I think I said it all in the story, and my words right now can’t process anything but my exhausted and sleep-deprived body. Plus—didn’t I say exhausted, like, a million times?

But I’ll leave you with a photo of a building near Mulholland Drive that I took the day before I left for Italy. It says everything I want to say, everything I can’t say. If you do read the story, please know you have my deepest gratitude… Sincerely, thank you so much. While I was writing it, I didn’t know I was writing a “literary horror romance fiction” piece, but I ended up doing so anyways. I truly hope you enjoy the story.

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P.S. Here it is, just in case you don’t have a Kindle. Here’s another: I truly hope you enjoy it. I really do.

 

The Poetry Lab Workshop with Cathy Linh Che <3

I wanted to thank The Poetry Lab and Cathy Linh Che for yesterday’s amazing writing workshop and reading. It’s such a strange emotive feeling to be “literary” back in the home where I grew up… A city with so many triggers, so many small deaths. But, yesterday reminded me that I was doing what I am meant to be doing. It’s such a cliché, but I can’t explain it any other way.

With thanks, I want to share one of the pieces I wrote in Cathy’s life-changing workshop. Thank you Cathy–for the joyful conversations, the sustenance, the friendship, your mother’s delicious cooking, and your writing. Your book, Split, is a radiant light against so many streams of darkness. I am so honored to know you. (And your script poem on your parents’ experiences filming Apocalypse Now? It was so painful, so hilarious, so frighteningly complex in its veracity and truths.)


Perhaps the hardest thing

about returning to Los Angeles is the heat. The heat feels like the color yellow, subtle in its veracity, its shame. Because when I drive down Cabrillo, I pass by the tiny, boxed apartment where his family staged a meeting after he announced our engagement. In secret, we were already married. In secret, we escaped L.A.’s heat for Las Vegas, confessed our love to a wrinkled, white judge who told us this is the kind of love you see in the movies. But the yellow heat followed me for years, from California to South Carolina to Virginia, and was it not a burning, scarlet letter carved in the chest, this yellow, this heat, this simple staged family meeting where I was not there but could imagine his sister placing him in the center of the cramped room, his four siblings and mother hunched in despair, asking him–why, why, why her? When I remember the day I got married, I want to recall instead the taste of the ocean, carry the salt in the air like a burden, run into the waves with my arms spread out, my wings collapsing the entire sky, churning it into blue, green lights that mark what I no longer call home. I dig the memory deep inside the ribcage and pull out a city from another country, birth an existence where abandonment only feels like walking through the world without skin. I was born in abandonment; my mother but a surrogate who pushed me into the world only to leave, to find a place where the yellow heat didn’t follow her too. But what can I do but remember his face: again, his bended knee, his mother’s anxiety-induced heat stroke in the park with those sad congratulatory balloons, his surprise white poster cards where he declared his love with black permanent ink. We drive in his old family car, the gray Honda Accord with the broken window and the front door that won’t open, and the radio soothes the rages inside of the heart cavity like a shell cracked but sealed back together by molted sand. We are laughing. The blue and green lights submerge us in their waters, and we happily drown together like lovers from those kind of movies you hate. I don’t ask him what his family said. I don’t ask him to leave. But we do anyways, fly across the country as if we entered a different world that repeats like an old videotape, like his father’s old large camera which he mounts on his shoulder and records the first time we confessed this yellow love, this scarlet burning in the chest, this scarlet chest.


Thank you, Grace!

I am currently fundraising for my upcoming Bread Loaf Conference in August and writing residency in Tuscany, Italy.

To read more about the fundraiser, please go here.

With all my heart, I want to thank those who donated. Maraming salamat po. After someone donates, I write a poem in thanks. I hope you enjoy my silly poems.

Again, with all my heart, thank you so much!


For Grace

I still think of the small boy you told me about.
His small frame, his mother abroad, unknown.
His heart open, his intuition poignant, his love
of small places to hide in, his body understanding
that he is unmothered too, just like me.

I wonder aloud: does he love shoe closets like me?
Can his boy body fit in that small, dark place
like how my girl body fit in that small, dark place
where the world became quiet and still
where the yearning inside finally stopped
like waves no longer crashing on the shore.

I think of him and know he will be fine
I think of that family picture you shared on Instagram
And how happy you looked, how family can remind us:
This is home.

Home is so complicated. I think of the beautiful tiny
home you built with your partner. About all the love
that must have been put into the walls.
How love brought two people together to lay down
the floor panels, put up the walls, build a bed,
build a life.

This is easy to say: your love inspires me.
Your love of life, for others, for the world
that surrounds us.

When I think of L.A., of home,
I no longer become frighten. Instead,
I think of people like us, who packed our bags
built our homes whenever we walked.
That is revolutionary to me.
The love you exhume, illuminate
is revolutionary to me.

Thank you, Anna!

I am currently fundraising for my upcoming Bread Loaf Conference in August and writing residency in Tuscany, Italy.

To read more about the fundraiser, please go here.

With all my heart, I want to thank those who donated. Maraming salamat po. After someone donates, I write a poem in thanks. I hope you enjoy my silly poems.

Again, with all my heart, thank you so much!


For Anna

Anna Kovatcheva, Anna Kovatcheva,
I don’t know why every time I say your name
I hear Anna Karenina singing in my head.

You know, I hated that book in undergrad
But when I think of the birds in your story
Of the stork master, of the winged creatures
Who come in March and leave at summer’s end
Of the mythos of Kokoshevo
I sing your name: Anna Kovatcheva, Anna Kovatcheva…

I’m in New York City and walk the streets of Brooklyn
And look at all the sparrows who hop on the ground
I smile and think of you. I think of history’s
Greatest lovers: Tristan and Isolde, Orpheus and Eurydice,
Bogart and Bacall.

And think of how every love rivals against history
Especially our love for books, for creating.

I thank that our love for books
Brought us together, somehow.

I think of the writing world–how small it is
I’m so thankful for its smallness,
for gifting me friends who I can name
as strange as me.

I think of how your pen is like the flight of birds
In a week I’ll travel south, back to Virginia
And look at the Atlantic and its crashing waves
Maybe you are seeing the same sky as me
Maybe you’ll see the same birds flying south
And I know one day I’ll read your words in a book
And thank the heavens that I could tell my children:

Hey, I know this writer. I know Anna Kovatcheva
Anna Kovatcheva, Anna Kovatcheva, and not
Anna Karenina. But the one and only Anna Kovatcheva.