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Of Righteousness and Sin

At dusk,

I take my prayers

and cradle them to my heart,

watching them slip into volant arrows

from my papery fingertips

and                                                                                             slink up a tree,

where they flutter, untethered

and groan into the undulating leaves.

After they dust grit off their wings, they rise –

flaunting grimy veins and enriched bark – and

float past the ocean, where turquoise sea-glass

puckers their starry bodies.

Mujib’s wizened stump corrugates, bows its head

as they pass by, and I wish I could hear its soft, keening wails.

When they reach the clouds, the mist

folds itself around them, spraying out

golden, glistening tears.                                                         I imagine them

sucked                                                                                         into smoldering eggshells,

crackling with flame,

their stellar mass

disappearing into

heaven’s ravines.

More

Self Portrait of Mangoes

In a hotel resting in the highlands of warped mountains and valleys pooling like corn syrup, I forgot to take my socks off before bed one night. My feet burned like the sachets of the Orthodox Christians and their saint ceremonies, but there was no ice bucket in the mini-fridge to comfort my feet. So in lime pajamas stitched with carnivorous dinosaurs, I ventured to the Italian ice machine in the breakfast bar. There, we met offline, shaking with left hands, right hands cradling ice or green sencha tea. I looked at your collar buttons, pins of some oceanic mammal, noticed your empathy, and thought, no, this being comes from a shrine more sacred than natural selection. God. You said that you didn’t believe in horoscopes and personality tests, yet besides the oatmeal packets and popping waffle toaster, you took a few anyway. One told you that you were an introvert, a diplomat, a little analyst, and you shook it off, explaining that your dad was a diplomat for Iran once, before firecrackers from rioters through an embassy’s glass turrets, high fuel prices, and some foreign radio propaganda about Sadam and Khamenei put a lit end to that marvelous stunt. Suddenly nothing belonged to anyone anymore. You and your father floated across the North Atlantic to Staten Island, Jesus in your socks, nuclear reactors splitting behind your backs, while your cousins fought cancer and democratic dictators melting nomadic tribes who speak a fake Arabic, or a fake Persian, or a little bit of both.


These resort slopes did not belong to us, but we still snowboarded like nerve cords down their splindly spines. Spinal nerves petted our nostrils, spinal nerves tickled our root canals, spinal nerves assaulted our motor controls during breakfast bar conversations that began with hey, you again? or watch out, apparently scorpios and leos don’t get along. The Day of Judgement, the promised meeting with my Lord, has always felt like tomorrow. I knew that we wouldn’t last forever, so my heart dared to wander somewhere. I don’t know where. It felt like you. Because we are salesmen, you said, let us be salesmen. The bank opened on Tuesday, we presented our elevator pitches to a senate of musty men and women who’ve been yelling boomers since the Vietnamese popped into offense in the central highlands. Like acrobats, we spun and squeezed a halal relationship out of carrot juice. God hates adultery, God hates divorce, God hates bickering husbands and wives, God hates oppression, which he hates more, I can’t say, I still wipe my cheeks on the prayer mat asking.


One time, while driving home from a Tuesday grocery trip at the Little India produce market, you wiped the last fragment of boiled spaghetti away from your lips with a Chipotle napkin and said that only things that mimic the anatomy of humans can have symbolism. Take the trees, you said, and see how their branches jut like frozen twizzlers from the rounded waist—it all looks distinctly like the silhouette of a human body. This is why there are so many poems littered with metaphors about trees. And look ahead at the squatted overpass, you said, there is no symbolism in this contraption, no blunt resemblance to the human experience, just a loaf of steamed clay constructed to spare our Chevy truck from the dribbling plops of rain for a few seconds. Pay no heed to the overpass, you said, pay heed to the trees.


Now, I don’t understand what mortal sin this Garden State overpass has committed to be titled the most un-symbolic thing on the planet, but, then again, I don’t get a lot of things. For example, how did we two beings, one a believer and the other an atheist, rope ourselves into a white wedding. We announced our commitment to each other somewhere in the local mango fields, property of a fruit farmer who was not invited to our ceremony. I did not fancy stealing another man’s oxygen and trespassing like this, but you said that it did no harm, so we exchanged bands on another man’s property unbeknownst to that man.


The mangoes of the tree we stood under decorated the tufts of leaves like hairpins and your tender fingers did not hesitate to plunder a fruit from this tree for your pink tongue to melt, water syrup forming tributaries through the lace of your fingers like poetry. I was shocked when you did this. The mango was nothing more than a complicated collection of bonded molecules to you, but I saw that it was the offspring of the tree and the property of a man we both didn’t know. In the yellow taxi your brother paid for, I pressed you for a reason as to why plundering the forbidden fruit was the arch for sharing my life with you and you said that it was just a mango, that it didn’t matter, that we shouldn’t fight on this holy day.


But our first night together, we fought anyway, this time with fragments of hips and elbows for the first right to the bathroom sink. In the end, we had to share, like children. In between toothbrushes and vanilla shaving cream, with mouths foaming with listerine, dental floss, and toothpaste, I turned to you and said that I would love to be a liquefied mango, or any cremated fruit for that matter, because it would be nice to be able to drain down a sink pipe some days. Except, the part about being a liquefied mango is important because it would be quite horrid to squish solid fructose flesh down a drain or to be flushed down a sink as nothing more than regular bathroom water. You spat out a puddle of Colgate toothpaste into the sink and said that you didn’t understand. And I didn’t want to tire you with my theory about the celestial beings of the messiah so what I said, instead, is that I guess what I mean is that I want an overripe mango for breakfast.


Then dawned the days when you used to bike to Chinatown every morning, through dim sum palaces and dumpling dens, to buy a pound of fresh mangos for me, wearing nothing but harem pants and a stretched Santa Cruz hoodie you once left on the sofa and missed a flight to retrieve. You never bothered to fix that brake lever, but even New York City traffic couldn’t keep you from your bike. Thinking of you one day as you had gone, I came to the conclusion that your Santa Cruz hoodie and your bike spend more time together than your skin pores do with oil. wondered what a love letter from your Santa Cruz hoodie to your bicycle would sound like, maybe something like this:


        Dear Bob the bicycle,


        I fell in love with the perfect curves of your tires that carry your full lust. I can fit into any space you allow me to. I wish for         our dust to dance together at the end of each day, when you’ve tired yourself and return from the dirt and grime of the         winding streets.


        Love,

        Your Santa Cruz hoodie


I thought the love letter was quite clever, but when I gave it to you, you said that I have this unsettling tendency to pay attention to things that don’t matter, like bicycles, pasta strainers, sweatshirts, and pigeons. Stealing a mango from a plastic grocery bag, you said that the rooster windbreaker with a missing “W” and the Chinese minimalists shopping for vegan tofu in China Town don’t matter in relation to the diameter and squared hypotenuse of the Earth’s ovular orbit. Think about Hooke’s Law, you said: the force needed to compress a spring by some linear distance scales proportionality with respect to that linear distance. So the next morning, I really tried to not think of the symbolism behind your tongue prodding water through the tube of your throat after dozens of push-ups in the foyer, or the meaning behind a person who chops a pecan pie with the knife tilted at a right angle, instead of a flat straight angle, or the symbolism behind the methodical way in which you eat spaghetti and meatballs because you, My Lord, are the only living being who can get drunk off of dipping spaghetti, like nachos, into a tomato sauce bowl with white eggplant and zucchini cubes. I really tried to pay no heed to ordinary material for about fourteen hours before rolling into defeat and accepting the fact that a cream pound cake represents the natural birth of a child. (A cream pound cake is dense on the pancreas, buttery, and kind to the taste palette, firing neurons like a woman’s emotions will do after a child’s scratchy cry.)


Every year, on the anniversary of the iconic day the Israelites slaughtered the golden calf because they were tired of their manna, the sky looks like dyed purple plums in a raw cheesecake to me. Yet sometimes, on these anniversaries, I wish that the world would tilt, spilling macho coffee and cheesecake on the floor as the atmosphere collides into the soft earth, as the dirt from cemetery gardens fall like icicles into the magma core beneath the splintered mantle, as sleeping bodies are pushed from their beds and forced to leap from the balcony of one terrace to another, as the wind slaps fruits from their crates. Otherwise, the world is boring.


When I thought of you one day, I felt like bursting a can of zero calorie diet pepsi onto the balcony and somersaulting, cartwheeling, as the planet explodes into chaos around me. You rolled home. The first thing I asked you for is an opinion on my future petition to rename tomatoes “goobers” just for the comedy of it because can you imagine boiling pasta one evening and saying “pass the goober sauce” or assembling a salad and “cutting goobers.” You didn’t think that was funny because you never cared about the mango from the tree of the unsuspecting fruit farmer, or the rooster windbreaker, or the Chinese minimalists. You don’t remember the three ginger-nut Moroccans who stood leaning on the tar hill cascading around the price pole for diesel in the gas station that bordered our flat. You don’t remember how the dust from the toddler’s chalk doodles floated through our window that morning we built a cardboard aircraft out of cereal boxes in our pantry. I told you one night that the reason our marriage collapsed was because of the mango and you pulled Jesus from your shadow and asked again how mangos could possibly matter. Sire, 2 + 2 = 4 only when the value of 2 means having a pair of things, like a pair of hamsters, and, in the same way, two microwaved grapes only make plasma if the two things microwaved are, indeed, grapes. If you had cared about the mango since our holy day, then the domes of the world would have leaned closer to you and hugged you like syrup with the gentlest thighs.


But the world and its things never mattered to My Lord, you, who never hesitated to plunder and pluck the forbidden fruit and drink the soul of the mango leaves that were summoned to protect you and I, the paired pigeons, from the rest of the world. The tribes vomited mortal and venial sins and you spat back in the name of the holy scripture. I am bitter. I wish that the fruit farmer had awoken our marriage night and, barefoot, without dentures, thrown us both with the complementary threats and curses into chlorine swimming pools for drinking his property’s pure air.


In regards to the overpass, My Lord, as we drove underneath the loaf of steamed clay, somewhere in that expanse of time, I grew up. That overpass is our marriage. It is how we spilled Ferraris and Mercedes into each other as if humans are able to stand straight, shoulders plucked back, feet seven inches apart, with a fleshy hole simmered through their belly buttons. As we ate the mangos and beets, the things of this world pumped through our throats and esophagus and pancreas and out, though the difference is that my tongue savored it and you forgot to chew with your adult teeth. You and the overpass are one. You couldn’t tell me how many motorcycles have slapped you. You push every droplet of rain into bowls of blue infernos to burn Abraham. No one will care when that Garden State Parkway overpass is torn into pebbles and sculpted into a stable road. Perhaps that’s why it’s so bitter. The overpass breathes, My Lord, the mangos breathe, the world beyond our bubble breathes, full inhales and exhales, drunk on the taste of air. It carries the human experience, we won’t last forever, so let’s at least agree that mangos matter when it comes to the diameter and squared hypotenuse of the Earth’s ovalular orbit.

Memoir of all those times I Kidnapped My Mom

At least when you kidnap your mom, you have a mom. Some people stake wooden crosses, crucifixes, in their lawns and praise the Lord of the Worlds for giving them a mom but the thing is that my mom thinks that I’m not her daughter. I was pulled to the bottom of a bathtub full of lighters and matches the first time I understood this. I knew that I was not the most unfortunate person on earth so I tried to burn my flesh in smoke; I wanted to know what it’s like to drown without the sin of suicide to prove to God that I appreciate the life he gave me. I crawled out of the bathtub with a lung dried in soot, face that hung like taffy, curled into ribbons and knots, and a body with hair burnt down like the end of a bomb just a few centimeters from the scalp, bleeding and blackened. I forgot to close the bathroom door that day. Some people feel the need to rob banks when something awful happens to them, but I don’t want to be a juvenile detention prisoner for thirteen years so I became a ninja that specializes in kidnapping instead.


My friends looked at me in such a pitious way, and I hated them for being there. This was a thing that I kept tilted on a chain in a basement chamber, not spilling from the pores of my skin for towels to soak. A friend was almost hit by a flying teapot from the kitchen and said what's with your mom and the beer? and I told them to stop being so emotional over an acid out of containment. Just shut the door and you won’t be hit by a flying saucer.


For your sake, I won’t get too graphic, so I’ll paint you a mild picture. I took my zebra plush one morning and hid in the closet, behind the party wear, to blind it from the violence. Then I went to fulfil the kidnapping. I stepped on an open beer can on my way to the victim’s location and the pop-top numbed my foot but I kept going. My mom was hung over the sink like a hook, watering the facet with vomit. I snuck behind her and powered a front snap punch and locked the bathroom door behind me. I kidnapped her for a total of 15 minutes. She rolled out of the bathroom and ripped the row of gymnastic medals from the wall. Then another day, when she was crawling about the living room, mouth foaming, tongue snapping about how Burger King and McDonald’s don’t pay for her ecstasy and cigarettes, I shut her in the living room and kidnapped her for a total of 30 minutes. The longest time I kidnapped her was when she smashed my piggy bank and ran away to sell its intestines. I kidnapped her for a total of 6 hours, when she fell asleep on the dining room table.


Today is my birthday and my cake is a pot of spicy ramen noodles. I had kidnapped my mom in the living room again but she cartwheeled with a succession of roundhouse kicks and tore down the door. I was in the middle of taking a cup of ramen noodles out from the microwave, and she startled me so much that the boiling noodles slipped and fell on top of her head. I ran and shut the door to the kitchen and kidnapped her for 2 hours. That time I kidnapped her, mama cried really hard and I just sat in the bathtub with the bathroom door shut.

Fish Market

American Sardines

the confessions of a 21st century Asian American:
reconstruction//ruin//release

every night on channel 6

another hate crime headlight lies prone

across the screen, blaring sirens

and barricade tape flashing “CAUTION”

for the viewers but powerless to

prevent the attack, to disentangle

the CCTV footage before the race bait

flew from their lips, or before the

dirty leather boot slammed into

their senescent ribs – onlookers

present yet stationary, there to look

then turn away but never to act.


                                                                        ‘what a shame’ the newsmen say,


                                   ‘possibly race-motivated’ the sheriff dismisses


my family watches in bloated reticence

and continues picking at our now-cold dishes.

.

.

afterwards, when I wash my face

or scrub my thick-skinned fingers,

sometimes I can’t help but scrutinize

the mirrored figure, wonder if I could

take these hands and peel away

my Tuscan yellow skin like

noxious wallpaper, just to repaint with

a fancy alabaster matte finish; then

perform rough-hewn rhinoplasty –

grope and mold my flat, oversized nose

in a V-shaped uptilt jutting with the overcooked

privilege that comes with store-bought genetics.


soon, I reshape my brown “squinty” slits

into blue eagle eyes, ovular innocence of

plastered American girl dolls, but

sharp with reproval and enshrouded disgust.

crease my vapid, flat skin

into pristine double eyelids

plastic surgery for the soul,

aesthetic reparations for some

existential sin; a damned birthright

for being born alien instead of white/right,

for using chop-sticks instead of stones

to hurl slurs and false niceties

down our throats, or on the street,

in our schools, behind closed doors and

while walking down chapel halls.


it is not self-loathing nor repulsion –


rather, it is fear


real, palpable unease

thrumming like motor engines beneath

the surface of our white lies,

dipped in faux understanding

every time we catch their side-eyed revulsion

pejoratives entangled in insular insecurity

for those who look & speak like the “other”


                                                                                       here, we are the brown and yellow 

                                                                                       sheep

in a black and white flock

corralled towards the barren outskirts

cleaved together and apart

from the ethnic fabric of this country,

a diasporic collage of broken English and foreign accents

of yearning to smash the picket fence facade

yell “THIS ISN’T RIGHT” into a vast void

of casual indifference

to make them see us

as flesh and blood intermingled into one collective spirit,

unable to be sundered through by any forms of

prejudice

or expulsion

or otherwise.


no, we were not born with hatred

for our skin, our faces, our speech;

it is your cold rejection that made it so,

and it is only the calloused unraveling of

nylon-twined miscommunication

that can mend bridges for our fractured communities,

reignite the anaerobic flame of conversation,

and bear acceptance for the reflections in our mirrors.

a roadtrip of felled resurrection/reconnection

the requiem of spring is a mordent in

                                      pitches of aureate nimbi and thundering magma;

           it’s obsidian that grates against the rough callouses of

                 graying artisans who swelter below hollowed pavilions

                        in midsummer, bronze-skinned and untiring, their

wood chips are ethereal clay to mold into aesthetic ether,


tailor-made for higher melodies,

                     soliloquy on the twelfth opening night as the oratorio leaps

in fervent grace, breathing drafty spirits into a sordid aria

            like the jukebox warbling on her secondhand playlist as

                                               we coast aimlessly along waterfront I-95,

                                  staring at your gossamer-tinted reflection in the car window and

                                                overlooking graffiti mired against deserted freights below –


in the trunk, dad’s welding kit roused forth with clunky groans;

                                      adjacent, my sheet music is pleated between crumpling

                                      stage play scripts, sheltered in good faith from mellow foliage

       and ruby-throated mirth, an incandescent flicker buoyant over

 the wick of terracotta flush and/or postponed (im)possibilities


                for the edge of tomorrow this family has not yet un(dis)covered

digest

Words have never satiated me

so I tear the pages out of the thesaurus

I let the synonyms synergize my sins

and the antonyms antagonize my anomalies

And at night I crawl under the covers

and the words crawl under my corium

they settle in the crevices of my flesh

and inhabit my integument

the words lying under my face

bring out the under lying fears I can’t face

the bile rises in my throat

and foggy memories rise in my mind

As a toddler I’d hold my father’s hand

when I was scared of


the monster hiding under my bed

As a child I’d hold myself

when I was hiding under the bed

scared of my father’s hand


I rack the medicine cabinet

and search the racks for

allergy pills to free up my chest

and for sleeping pills

to free up my mind

and so then I do not eat because

    my friends do not eat because

        pretty girls do not eat because

                   to be skinny is to be pretty

                             your stomach should be full of air

                                    but my stomach is full of words

into my system they have found a way

and as much as I try

                                              i cannot digest what you say.

fallen angel

his wings were clipped on a tuesday

a belated christmas gift. there was gold

on his hips and bamboo strapped to his back.

he could draw picasso with no hands

and best anyone at basketball. mom

carried him home on a throne of jade and cobwebs


buffed with seaweed, he planted a flag

at the top of the slide. middle fingers up and reigning

with a double-barrelled gun. he knew how many seconds

were in three hours (more than ten thousand)

and he sprinted faster than all the girls, even

when wearing khakis. just like harry potter he

had black hair and round glasses

so of course he was the chosen one


with sharpie he spelled it out

he would dominate in seven different

languages, including chinese and russian

and release honeybees into the skies

it was prophesied because it was written on cream-

colored paper, he told himself

rubbing the asphalt off his elbows


after eleven years the sun stopped

shining on his shoulders. it was strange and certainly

quite uncomfortable – the rice cakes he sold

in his backyard went stale and the stuffed manatees

began jumping from his bed and for the first time

his knees hurt from his tumble to earth


his billboards were ripped down by seagulls

from the wire frames spilled blood, deemed

tasty by the gulls. they painted over his rainbow

with black tar, sewed his teeth together with golden

spool, smothered him with perfume and paychecks

and fastened a wristwatch around his neck


he walks with two feet, now

burning tteok and scallions in the pan and

eating them with a soup spoon. at midnight

his coven is lined with pearls and broken

pencils. he sings hymns and takes off his shirt

spreading citrus over the scars of

God’s fallen angel

Death in a Foreigner's Tongue

I. Él sana a los que tienen el corazón roto y venda sus heridas

(Psalm 147: 3)


Their locutions flit over my head, like a murder of crows

fleeing a foggy sunrise in the east. Mother told me to smile


and nod, to force puddles of sunlight into my gingerbread eyes. Monochrome people

hover on tiled floors, fingers fumbling against sterling silver wrists. I study the way


their fingernails catch on dull moissanite rings, handed to them by the papaya brushed

remnants of their ancestors. I wonder if they were baptized in the murky water


of chipped bathtubs. Father raised me to be a good Roman Catholic, to hold hands with

the boy that smelled like gasoline during Communion, to hold back


bile as I kissed him during the wedding. Fragmented light dips into concave chests,

nestling against floral perfume. I peer at the wilted flowers sighing against stiff walls


asters, bluebells, and carnations

in a deadened glory that clings to life like ticks burrowed in a mangy dog.


II. Mi carne y mi corazón pueden desfallecer, pero Dios es la fuerza de mi corazón y mi porción para siempre.

(Psalm 73:26)


Mascara smudges transform into abstract paintings on tear-stained cheeks, birthing a

child to waltz across anguish-stricken skin. She leaps from


freckle to freckle, wobbling on tippy-toes painted with matte aegean polish. I

swipe my thumb across her face, watching her dissipate beneath my


fingertip. Caskets of walnut wood

conjugate in a silent vigil. Within my mind’s eye, I can clearly


picture the dead conversing with each other in hushed whispers. “Did

you believe their lies too?,” the elders would ask. Undecayed

jaws sighed, “Yes, they told the same stories.” Phantom

hands caressed my jaw, gliding beneath my mandible and tilting

it upwards and towards firmaments of an unforgiving and

disquieting god. Oh, how I covet to join Him.


III. Jesús le dijo: “Yo soy la resurrección y la vida."

(John 11:25-26)


Hearts of sanguine blood strain against suffocating ribs; pomegranate veins

strain against sweaty palms as they shove roses against brass handles. The


clicking of heels decrescendos and crescendos as they deposit

their flowers and scurry back. One steps, two steps, three steps,


I am pulled forward by the roots of my hair. I stand before him and his stale

air. Should I feel remorse? Should I pray for his day of heavenly


resurrection? Reluctant hymns drip from chapped

lips, the same lips that so greedily drank prayers from their mother’s teat.


I am an intruder within

these people, an imposter coated in vermillion lipstick. I kiss the top of his


forehead, dusting brunette hair away from his pasty, rubbery skin. He still smells like gasoline.

on your name

there goes a saying:

a name must flow like ivory,

crisp like jade, full like a mouth of steam

before it cascades like a tumbling ball of fire,

but

baba and i gave you an american name

and the syllables bounce on my miso-coated tongue

shape-shifts in rhythm,

stone-skipping across tea-infused teeth

i drag out your last letters like silk threads of lotus roots,

your name ends too soon.


they'll pronounce your last name wrong

lips puckered, too much air between their teeth

they’ll say

nameless face she, blind complying she

you'll never

tell them to say “shí”

tongue curled around back palate,

you’ll never

tell them to call you rock

of security and stability

womb of Monkey King

tell them: travel forests of limestone shi ling

catch the wave of your Antelope sandstone,

sightseeing — they'll see you

eyes closed — they’ll hear you


listen stone —

don't break their bones, ‘cause

dragons —

breathe fire through sequoia body,

burn wildflower poppies

exhale jasmine breeze

in your roar,

i'll listen for ashes of paper money we lay on your grandpa’s grave

every qingming

and remember:


keep pacific salt, atlantic wind between your cheeks

    (you'll need to blow out the fire too)


i saw our city's name on the newspaper

a man spat at an asian woman on her way

to the market last morning

before a group of mothers screamed for their kids to

get away from her

before a teacher told her daughter to set her goals

as low as her mother's paycheck


by preschool,

chalk fingers will learn to draw out the corners

of eyelids quicker

by first grade,

they'll stick "made in china" labels

on your shoulders

by middle school,

you'll forget the symphony you hold

between your two ears

by high school,

you'll kowtow your golden head

to your homeland’s

landmines.