Poem – City Lights

City Lights
     in the city’s perfect emanation of light
                                        -Carolyn Forche

Traffic light
          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
          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.


Fiction – The Dragon’s Wok

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.

Continue reading

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.


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.


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.


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.


Poem – The Living Room

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.


Poem – The door knob without a door

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


Poem – Fortune Cookies

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.