Poem – City Lights

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

Fiction – The Dragon’s Wok

Chapter One – The Dragon’s Wok
-Saechao

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.

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Poem – Migrant Burden

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

Poem – Simple Clarity

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

Poem – Aspirations to Become the Starbucks Poet

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

Poem – Girl’s Room

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