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