City Lights in the city’s perfect emanation of light -Carolyn Forche Traffic light spotlights the hungry man on the corner holding a cup for change. Christmas lights bring out his high cheekbones ragged pants over thin thighs eating into themselves. Red light district nonexistent in fishnet stockings and black leather miniskirt. Street lights lining dirt road curving around a bend a paved highway migrant worker and colleagues in an earth-brown van headed southbound to cabbage patches in Watsonville. Boardwalk lights enveloping broken relationships between high school sweethearts in their thirties their six year-old on a porcelain horse chasing a dream that will always stay a few lengths away. Wall Street lights selling the junk bonds analyst the idea of becoming a poet his office light is not bright enough for him to live comfortably, but he feels fine. Porch light waiting for the return of a prodigal son lost to necessities. -Smith
Chapter One – The Dragon’s Wok
He catches me trying to slip out of the door.
In a game we’ve been playing since his third day home from the hospital, the difference now is he can chase me, albeit with wobbly steps. Like always, he looks up, eyes questioning where and why I’m going. At first, I stopped so he wouldn’t cry, though he had never given me any reason to believe he would. Now, I want to be caught. I want to explain the destination, to promise an early return, to kiss him on his forehead.
We meet halfway in the living room and I scoop him off the carpet.
He leans his padded cheek against my ear as we twirl in front of my mother.
Turning my head, my lips to his ears, I whisper words he has heard many times, a secret I hope he remembers. Before too long, my restless mother asks to hand him over, and I kiss his forehead before holding him out to her arms. I can feel them watching me walk out of the room and the front door.
Migrant Burden Migraine headache a migrant backache from father to son. An American daughter-in-law our burden together. Donna wears her emotions on a flushed pale face washed with ivory cream what she brings to the table white rice mother taught her to wash and steam. Her father and brother wonder why I never finished business school, but her mother is happy her daughter is happy. We drink red wine, Sonoma, Sunday afternoons, after everyone gets home from church; sitting on the verandah watching working cars go by speaking of Marx and Aquinas they are intrigued but don’t understand my religion something Donna picked up when we met at Catholic school after late morning mass I was studying alone in my room my father wanted a private education I don’t show the pain father says I have a hard case, a soft heart hidden from the people I know especially Donna’s little brother whom I gave shooting lessons aim and technique— elbow in, shoulders squared —but no concentration, unnerved easily something his father detests my son’s burden a homeless father telling him he needs to be home by midnight instead of orchard parties surrounding pumpkin patches, where the girls are prone to get naked and pregnant. -Saechao
Simple Clarity For Jean Donnelly Oh, Jean, it’s okay If you do it beautifully, My name’s rhyme Nothing else should Clarify so simple The pen’s condensation A long draught The ink’s condescension A first draft The end product begins logic Who creates I know I shall meet— The scholars—and The daffodils— At night the moon— Diving into the— Neither rosy nor prim is like— My country is—cross A young boy lying Underneath crying So much— —as such, I will sleep Near it. -O'Connell
Untitled T’is the difference between bad poetry and good: Bad poetry sometimes enthralls the way a pretty girl standing at the bar attracts the eyes and tugs impulses. Good poetry moves. -Saechao
Aspirations to Become the Starbucks Poet Before my father died, I told him I wanted to be the Starbucks poet. He laughed and said that was a sure way to go broke. Though relatively uneducated, he knew $3.35 for a Caffé Mocha is rather inflated. I was 20, a junior in college with caffeinated blood and nicotine-caked lips. He asked if I would spend the rest of my life writing about sunsets and doves. No, poetry isn’t like that anymore… if it ever was. “Great, now you won’t even get laid either.” A poetry professor once told me that all poems have a beginning, middle and end. Did she mean birth, life and death? Personally, I just wanted to sort words out so they made a little bit of sense when I scanned the page from left to right. It became more complicated than I thought. After my father died, I went through his things: army fatigues, a stash of 120 one-hundred dollar bills, his life savings all wrapped in silk and crisp from the mint, stacks of religious books written in dead Chinese characters. I was 21. I took a summer course in Mandarin to see if I could unlock the words. The professor’s first lesson: Read up and down and backwards. I dropped after the second week, the professor expected too much out of me, the lone Asian in the class. So, for a while, I visited as many different Starbucks as I could. They were of all shapes and sizes, but in their round logo, they all had the same green, and the curvy chick. Usually, I sat in a chair facing the bar. It never ceased to amaze me the amount of pretty young girls willing to make my coffee to order. Usually, I had the coffee of the day. But, imagine a poetry book sitting on the shelves with logo-clad mugs and baristas. A marketing manager’s dream. It’d make a killing, especially Christmas and Valentine’s Day. My father was a small-time farmer who woke with roosters and the sun. He lived with cracked hands and leathery skin, and when I was born, he wanted a doctor or a businessman for a son. Instead, he got a small-time alcoholic with undisciplined money management. But when I’m at a bar, I can still spot a farmer: the ones with dust on their shoes, and they drink beer and liquor, “neat.” They’re honest and they shoot pool straight. -Smith
Girl’s Room For George Oppen A stranger peeked in Plath’s and Dickinson’s windows late at night, and thought, “Man, these are lassie rooms,” and laughed alone. Yes, a woman’s room is a girlie room, and I hope men know that the intelligent prostitute will excite a man, a whore not a girl reaching for the headboard for balance, while a boy lies beneath, laughing. -Chang
The Living Room After a conversation with Barbara Hale All my life I’ve cleaned my house at night when the cars have stopped running and the crickets begin singing Under the white bulb in the living room— vacuuming cookie crumbs from the carpet and dusting the dead television, pressing feathers on broken speakers. They’re not blown out; just faulty wiring. Watching the red lips of the local anchorwoman I’ve learned to read her quiet words. Flat-cheeked, her round eyes Are endlessly searching. Eye to lips when I look up from TV dinners, Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, we never make eye contact. Gentle with the paintings and pictures on the walls; they hang with glass faces— short nails in thin asbestos— tempting gravity always: Johnny—as a one-year-old baby—has red hair no one in the family has. He also has a rare smile and tiny teeth that never knew cavities. They fed him broccoli and Shanghai bok choy. I didn’t know him. He was older and died young for his time: 42. Heart attack. “He was a fit 42,” I remember someone saying. His legacy lives in this first house he bought and didn’t have the heart to sell even when he finally moved to his estate in the hills. I never liked that one. The ceilings are too high, and the maids and butler and cook hear everything. Even when they were in their quarters, I felt their ears listening as grandmother told me she loved me only, while watching me put the bears and dolls back to their places on the shelves. This first house is easier to keep: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and the living room. The fireplace isn’t big but watches the room and breathes warmth to the occupants. The master bedroom is the only room big enough to fit a king-sized bed, but most nights, the three cushions of the living room’s couch hold me, and loose change now and then. The hardwood floor has been replaced once when grandmother left the kitchen sink running and locked herself out of the house. There was little damage. Johnny just wanted consistency. The house is still a bit cold from the years when no one, lived in it. -Chang
The door knob without a door The depression sinks in Days without purpose The hands reach but end in fists No entry means nothing to the owner of the hand It’s the knob that suffers from the lack of responsibility, and companionship So he will lay hopeless The truth is we live for the use and abuse Without it we feel lonely and unwanted It is only when we receive it that we appreciate the purity But it is too late -Howell
Fortune Cookies My father speaks before the family at the dinner table. [My mother provides the translations.] Upon birth I cried, coming out headfirst. “Happy days are just over the mountaintop. The struggle has ended.” She brings countless plates; frisbees with food for my American friends. He eyes them and grins. (Chew. Don’t choke. Moderation is key.) His face is flushed; blushing from the cognac. A request. Do we have any rice wine? He smiles. “Soon, a lifelong friend shall be made.” Katie wants a platinum ring with diamonds, not gold bars and a beheaded chicken. “You have a strong desire. But wait, family interests come first.” Je t’aime, mais j’adore mon père. Oui, je comprend... mais, voulez-vous coucher avec moi? It’s a romance language. (Fuck you!) Aix meih! In the foothills, the sun shines on the priest. I do. “Faulty confessions— are next to innocence.” Yie mv hiuv. During the holidays, our waists become thicker, the air becomes thinner. “Hire a blonde secretary,” he says. We eat Vietnamese take-out, splattering oyster sauce over the contracts. She wears glossy lipstick, on her neck, a crucifix. Katie sponges my father’s back and lights sandalwood incense at night, burning my nasal cavity. He whispers, “Your wisest counselor is you.” Mother’s sobbing sounds like laughter when she forgets a word. Katie holds her hand, they stare through the silent crowd across the room: an uninvited stranger needs to be fed. -Saechao