Pale Skin

I keep forgetting that today is supposed to be some sort of celebration of independence for Americans. Twisting the whole idea around–yes, I am American (no matter how reluctant I may be to reveal that to foreigners, but I will write more on that another time), and I am celebrating my independence–abroad. A reminder to all: never let anything hold you back. We are all priceless, and no matter how much we get beat down, we have the ability to rise again. And here is a poem that embodies the moment I was able to let go; here’s one for my own independence:


Your family was fortunate: when the Khmer Rouge was silently gaining power
in Cambodia, they left for Taiwan.
They escaped the starvation, concentration camps, the executions.
Those were your people.
But I will not cry for you.

These are the people with whom I share an ultimate root,
but know nothing of because
you never talk to me.
It’s always, you wouldn’t understand, you don’t know about

Life, the place you left me teetering,
clutching your leg as you went to live in another woman’s place for two weeks?
Life, what I contemplated taking many nights
as I sat in the bathtub letting the water run loud to drown out your lies, thinking
it’d be so goddamn easy?
But this is not about me.

This is about you, and the way you walked away from me when all I wanted
were answers. This is about the way you would not answer my sister’s questions
about biology even though you hold a fucking PhD in molecular life science
bullshit because you obviously don’t give a shit about life, because you
left me
with blood tainted purple.

This is about the way you starved us of love while you fooled around with some spoiled Latina brat who wore
perfume, unlike my mother
who could not mask her displacement, who could not overcome the fact
that when she was a few weeks old she was left
in a corner to die.

This is about my mother, who followed you across
a sea and followed your white teeth and fed you and stood on the side
as you carved perfection into plaster molds
and as you deemed us imperfections in your sterilized world of dentures.

You think this is about me forgiving you, but
I will not cry for you
I do not look like you
with your pale, pale skin, you emerged unbruised.

You are pale like the belly of a dead fish, you are hideous
in the backdrop of Cambodia
that is beautiful temples and beautiful, dark, children bronzed by the sun.

This is about the years of tears i’m taking back.


Losing the Climb

Much of my time is spent waiting for the sun to emerge, to nudge my body into action, into productivity. The in-between is spent studying hands, complex like Japanese origami. Each line, each fold has a story. I used to fear that I would lose myself if I scratched my hands, so I slipped my hands into a pair of white gloves and stuck them in a freezer, coming out only to soak in the light of day.

Now I slip my hands into a skin of chalk, and as I glide down into the rock hole, my skin prickles at the cold. My body falls naturally into contorted shapes; my trust in self doesn’t seem to echo through the people waiting to catch my fall. Slow and static, I carry on. Regard the present as a companion–climb with patience and precision; present shifts to backdrop only when nostalgia edges in.

We reach Lost City. Halfway up my rock, hands go numb. The primal need to climb takes over.

What kind of precision can you expect your body to facilitate in an incoherent state? Climbing–inherently dangerous? Body, mind doesn’t care. I can’t complain that I didn’t make it. Close by, there are people watching, fingers fumbling with their pot kits. Disconnected, we exist on the same broken wavelengths. It’s simple: discard the world around you. Then replace.



The silver tide calls to me:
my foot glides into the river.

My blood runs
blue with wanting–union of two
long-lost lovers.

Silken water slips
between my softened bones,
salt bleaches me clean.

My hair unravels in thin ribbons,
black, the flat notes of a piano,
interlaced with the sea.

I swallow instinctively. I find
I cannot breathe I slip and grasp
for the world but my body protests, crawling

frictionless, water molding to the hollow
of my neck. I force my fingers through the cold wet
towards the surface. I am frail, my skin:


Unsuited Pair

In my lapses of longing
you take the shape of a tree,
branches stretched wide across the child’s
sandbox where dirty toys lay half-hidden, corners
red, the outside a black plastic where on hot
days it burns real bad and the children scream.

But in the arctic frost of New York winters,
the obsidian black of your dying bark reminds me
we are living in the present
and I cannot undress your night.

My limbs are willows
that will not bend
like bamboo, already scarred too much
to take your void of space.


Like a wind-up toy
designed to move only
in one direction,
I am drawn to you.
Pulsing chest,
heartbeat like a hummingbird’s wings,
tangle of loose limbs.
With a hum of belonging,
I burrow closer.
Designed to move only in one
I am wound.

Ice Blossoms

As a child, I was fascinated by pretty things. This translated into a need to preserve life, to preserve beauty. At the Plaza there was a specie of flower whose face was a white petaled globe. In its perfection it appeared fragile, yet it was particularly hard to extract. The stalk’s fuzz would litter my hands as I fought with its deep roots. When I finally managed to tug it out, specks of dirt clinging to its still-live body, I put it in a plastic bag with water and froze it. My freezer became a wonderland of ice pinnacle flowers in plastic bags. I had managed to pry them from the curling fingers of time.

We must abandon time because time should be dead says Sartre, but time is our backbone. It cannot simply cease to exist: we cannot all live in a timeless world.

What if the incessant rain outside my window was those once-frozen flowers, spiraling downwards, having escaped my naïve childhood protection? It does not halt there– it continues its adventures in dirty, less innocent places.

Character-building, always.

On Nostalgia

beautifully written by my sister Eva Kalea.
be sure to check out her page at
I think nostalgia is a kind of sadness, a melancholy for things past. (And in this sadness we often find pleasure—a refuting of the idea that sadness is always negative.) I think nostalgia is an open door into a past life, experience, emotion. And just as a pianist more easily inhabits the emotional landscape of a piece once she has perfected its technicalities, so too do we become better at experiencing an emotion once we have practiced it, learned its nuances in our bodies, fine-tuned the production of its chemical concoction. Nostalgia is the re-experiencing of a known emotion: its power lies in the fact that it is an emotion with the undercurrent of the same emotion, the experience of which we have already practiced and perfected. This experience is textured with the sense of loss, the inescapable transience of all things.

And what of love? Do we go on loving something, someone simply because we already have—that is, out of inertia & nostalgia? Isn’t love just a nostalgic longing, a mourning for the moment we first fell in love—a moment when the sun, the moon, the stars chanced upon an alignment they will never find again?

(Okay, let me be sensical. Nostalgia may explain half of love. The other half is that the object of our love continues to inspire & amuse us. And yes, I am using logic and numbers to explain emotions. This is how I make sense of things.)

Which is more powerful: love, or loss of love? We cannot remember physical pain. But the memory of an emotion is the emotion itself: the blade of nostalgia cuts through time to produce an experience as exact as if it were re-happening. The sadness we have experienced in the past will always be the same sadness. The door of nostalgia will always be there, waiting for a scent, a word, a thought to open it and let experiences of the past come crashing through.

Virginia, the Departure

Some memories I will leave for later. In short, it was studying human dynamics that made Virginia tolerable. The Conor-Quinten dynamic. The apartment of hard-asses vs. high-schoolers. My daily trips to the bathroom with Kristen, window-shopping at the vending machine on the way back. It does smell mostly unpleasant in my spot here at the bus stop, cigarette smoke coming towards me– more than a romanticized gentle waft. Shoulders still slightly sore from wrestling. Muscles resting on glass behind me, glass that reflects my hoop hugging suitcase, bright Burton bag, bright shorts. It was the best way to go. Surrounded by light drinking. Card ninja shenanigans. Jamming with a newfound respect of Jacob’s rhythm. Percussion with glass bottles and Conor’s translucent blue plastic hamper. Patting, tapping, punching the inside. Shalika and Katie nestled under the counter, chatting. Quinten on the far side of the table, also joining in on this unreal mirth. Ron likely narrating the night, maybe less of a critic in our final moments. And Kevin and I are jamming away the departure. A night honed in on being. This company, this almost dreamlike stupor of reality, makes a fleeting moment of infinite happiness.

Tire Swing

as we near the end of summer, reminders of childhood kick in. or, summer is the time when we relive our childhoods.
Sun-dyed trees sun-kissed locks ruffled
birds, scooter on cement, drowned
cars and motorcycles,
glittery plastic sandals, pink on feet of small
girl, it smells like hot rubber I get dizzy fast
not a carsick dizzy but a thrilling
dizzy I can spin real fast
unbalanced– the elliptical arc is lopsided
sent into uneven orbit
sky gradiates from yellow to blue
sunlight settles at a golden shimmer.

cool solace.

The rim of the tub was cool as I looped my arms around it. Sometimes I would lie in the dry tub naked, sated by the contact of smooth porcelain with skin, inverted– I would press my bare back against its natural arch. Sometimes I let the water run, pounding between my feet, drowning out the noise of lunatics in my head as I studied the unperturbed white of the walls– a reflection of something I would never have. This was how I got to sleep. By lying in the bathtub enveloped by cold, imagining bones breaking and fragmenting. Collapsing like dominoes into a void of space, collapsing into neat stacks of imperfect shards, resilient like black steel.

Here come the waves.

Lungs leaden, legs motionless, my body fights to stay in place. The inertia of crashing water still manages to push me back from the gates of feigned happiness.

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