The Margins’ Poetry Tuesday section highlights poems by emerging and established Asian and Asian diasporic poets with a mission to celebrate the personal and the political. Poetry Editor Emily Jungmin Yoon and Assistant Poetry Editor Ayesha Raees select poems that are published in The Margins every Tuesday. Submissions are open in May and from November through December. Submissions are currently open until December 31, 2022.
At night, I whisper the word for woman, then other, repeat again.
Of my heart, / my eyes. I stole your bifocals and we crashed into /
the kitchen table and all you could see was sunlight.
If there’s anything / that still surprises me / it’s the fact joy too has weight.
Face after face after face.
Sometimes, I choose a night that doubts and a rain / that overcomes.
I secretly know I’d be a great flight attendant.
“Reencarnación | Reincarnation” and “La sombra de la vaca | The Cow’s Shadow”
A bridge has landed on my doorstep & a paper is asking me to leave / behind what isn’t mine.
What else, if anything, would I / outdare a bullet for, if not our country / to bury our grandparents in?
I’m severe I’m severed I’m savior—
And who could forget / when he declared he was going to marry himself, /showing up to Barnes and Noble in a wedding dress
The cypress that grows up straight / sweetly represents my beloved’s the stature. / How can I compare his stature to a cypress? / The cypress is sweetly stuck in the mud of astonishment.
Where did you abandon the snowflake on which I wrote my secrets?
how much time / does the wind give us? / do we still run? / who sends the wind? / does it carry the bombs? / or do they come after?
At birth, my mother recites my ba zi / to a monk, and like all good daughters, // I do not ask. How can a mother / help but lead her daughter // Astray?
After the rain, the June wind / wheedles the airy curtains / and creeps into the ward
the manner / in which the oaks nod to me it’s funny / I swear there are no magnets / lining my boots / maybe just a few nickels
America swallowed my parents / spit out skeletons / Waleed became Bill / the Clintons stretched / their skinny vowels / over my father’s father’s father’s name
My friend uses words I know: / desert, rainfall, homeland. Speaks with / dead wet sea eyes of a house where her / grandfather found peace.
Unearth the map of storied constellations. / Vibe the unknown. Wager that fear is not our common dialect.
my eyes are closed / & i won’t lose my temper, want a world where my people aren’t background, refuse / to be an extra in someone else’s weekend again.
I grow up: I never learn / Chinese: I never go to China: we eat until our stomachs peached: we grow peaches on trees and they are moneyed: we bury / their hearts in the dirt: fullness is 貴 is: priceless:
I dress devotedly. I devote my time to smoothing the knots in my hair. / I lace rum and cokes with devotion. My aloe vera plant sings devotion.
& if / you find yourself full of holes, the / way they beat fish at the markets, / think of the hands, damp & cherried / with rain, that once tore your mother / out of the house / she learned to dance in.
I loved them all and everything / they thought about so much and I was out / of my mind by then, not with grief or disgust / but with beauty
her story—a bone-white line across her throat. / Given enough time, she says, are all stories / not ghost stories?
we dog eating people / eating off each other / bear the vaguely dog / sounding name stairs
Is not house, not kitchen, not ceiling. Spanish chandeliers as old and intricate as iron.
What / saint-kissed relics shall I take with me, what shall serve as capstones for the / humble churches I’ll build in the parking lots of the American dream?
O whose chant do I hear in these halls recalling my deeds, or my debts, the structure / of the cancer room, a storm that once wiped Laos clean of sin a thousand years ago?
the / tangibility of absence: to put a ruined keep inside of someone / until it becomes skin
When I tell you that she’s a witch, I’m not saying like it’s a bad thing. What I / mean is that one time she went to see / someone and said that he was going to die and then he died / the Friday after.
no matter how desperately the world begs / for my blood / I still refuse to die. in this body, survival / is an outlier
But tonight, the horses, there, / down among the beeches, know when I begin to yield / and do not move until I do, turning their heads / in the direction of my voice.
You can describe a place / without knowing it. / At recess in March I choked / because the air tasted like fertilizer. / What’s the difference / between breathing a place / and being suffocated by it?
I was the writer in my life / and where did it get me / is not a line from an Army manual
hong kong a neon neckline, long hair glittering / with ship-lights, crystal balls, storm velvets. / it’s her life, yet I had come, and grown / my hair, and happened upon the eastern sun / like a moon.
Now, I’m lost in the woods thinking of Noy. / Is she still in Seattle? Does she has her pastry shop? / In Minnesota, I gather what is gone, capturing a spirit.
i had a twin who was 95% water. a twin who latched its mouth onto my heart and drank me dry.
Instinctively, one / wants to be the native plant in its ancestral loam, / one wants a resistance to the sun, to shun full rainfall / for a flash of morning dew, or at very least, grow / some throwaway limbs.
I practiced my Urdu in the bathroom with you / as I sat in the tub; only so long before an American / mermaid can stand without floating on into sea foam.
I could become / a better citizen, but then who would be left to / speak for me?
three Novembers ago we found a comic that told us / if you want to say thank you, don’t say sorry. / I have held my breath ever since.
What do you like he tries again / and I think of landscape, the early fog / ridden hills of San Francisco when eucalyptus / unfurl like children waking to the light.
The shaman wore long white sleeves rippling & / Minuscule in the bone-dry distance. / I jerked & righted the wheel / Plying invisible waves of hot sea
I write myself into the fiction / whether you see me or not.
If you lie / on the table, you subject the table to a terrible guilt. / It is no longer a table people can eat on. If you stand / next to the table, the table senses its mortality.
Over and over / from some small / dark pit, / it spun out / a whole world / for itself
I am careful with my words unless they are not in English, / am I not? (不好意識打擾各位可是我不想再禮貌了。) / My mother is careful with her words only when they are in English.
Here, the mangled text that will / become a poem — loose language — / blueprint for a reckoning.
My father was always the magician, / not I. One swift pull and / the silk streamers would spill / from his mouth, flooding the floor.
Did you take my mother’s hand or ghost / the altar in her bedroom first?
Always / propelling the thing forward, not leaving us to rest. / Below: the infinite world, // all its ligaments, all its creatures.
The / day you died, the windows of our house were / open to let the breeze in. You said that it was / nothing.
Near the bottom of your hollow mouth, / Your cut tongue gathers lizard scales / Like a sunken bucket in an algal well.
She’s here to see us off. / Her voice is the softest ligature, unthreading. / Why are you saying goodbye to everyone except for me who raised you?
There was a longing / in the carvings of the / knife my mother held / against the fruit. She / peels with quiet / permission.
May our dead no longer speak to us / Our language now kneaded into other woes / with rancid stars a meager pittance / and false kingdoms rich in violent blows
I always thought I’d find you / throned in the moon-drenched water my wonder / woman your palms curled upward like lotus skins
Tonight, when you return, you / will be an American and I will still be a girl who needs / a translator to read in my mother’s language, my mouth full / of so few shapes. I fall into the habits of my mother, it’s true.
This is my small sphere. / I’ll make good, stay folded in myself. I promise / to memorize the bramble and texture of garden walls.
Fingers caked with wet / rice break backs and bellies, / pluck gills, / scrape eggs, tear limbs / Tita takes our legs– / cracks them / under a glass jar for us. / We suck shells ’til twilight.
Woman who puts up her hair comb holds / up the sky. There is the legend and probably a lie.
From a crevice in a severed rock / birds with long beaks were tearing out earthworms. / My pain was without a wound / and in the bodies of the frayed, torn-out worms / there was no pain.
because I love you, I will gut this distance / with nostalgia, because grief can taste of sugar if you run / your tongue along the right edge
Poets write back to the literature of Partition on its 71st anniversary
Not all rainbow: here, tender orange, / there, rusted brown, the underside / gelatinous and white. Then the bones.
The stallion: one win short / of the triple crown. My intonation: / one stress too many for an apology— / all the times I got it wrong. Minoru, / Minoru—both are gone.
Mythologies have their way of explaining the basic human condition: that there will always be some where or thing you wish to get to or back to.
Ask if he knows, what the first champagne mango of the summer / tastes like, its golden juices flowing over some farmer’s / cigar paper skin.
A policeman found the boy minutes later. A shaman, / a monk, a priest, and a poet are still pouring over / his soul.
Against the hills, a tall building with plank-walled rooms. / I, wishing for my wife and son like clouds far away, / My night is even longer under the bright moon.
The moon appears / the small clip of a nail a paring knife / a chalk mark / left to linger in the sky
We prayed for resurrections, / but the dead remain as memories that / seemed to shrink in the mind, / like an airplane appearing smaller / the further it gets from the ground.
I should say kholo, my mother’s brother. / I should say umja, my father’s brother / so you know which branch of the tree to cut. Or / cherish.
If I can learn its grammar and alphabet / hold its vocabulary in my mouth / then perhaps I can know something of history—my history.
Pipedream: / I wondered what it would be like to strip away / slit eyes—sick of assimilation; the debilitating / task of tireless reinvention.
When I was born, my parents put me on a rug on the ground and stood / staring at me until the light outside dimmed and then there in the / darkening we three were quiet for a while
I could live like this, I thought, lie here / and have my own kind of drifting blue.
I dream my mother / unravels / hair out of my mouth / in English / she asks me / to speak Chinese / coils the hair / into a dark gloss / whorled / in her palm
One lover was bold and touched / me once behind a door, but it was her cousin / Vandie, the one who never looked at me, that I loved. // One lover was kind, so kind, in kissing / me at all.
Older immigrants talk as if Reagan invited them to dinner. / The dream never showed, but we can paint chain link white.
Studio Era music makes me want to dress fancy and pretty; leave the house in gorgeous armor, but I know too well the earth’s hunger and I will not satisfy it. Today I leave my house and I make sure no one can call me faggot.
I remember / 亲爱的 / back then / how you robed / yourself in tall grass / & earthed your flesh / how your waiting / shrunk soldiers’ bayonets
‘A week before I graduate, I round up all my femme clothes / and stuff them in the Savers plastic bag / I’d gotten them in.’
‘Mine: thick & black, so coarse / when trimmed, the ends splintered / bare feet.’
‘Which poem can defeat / the fear of dying / a meaningless death / and how to write that poem / staring into the barrel?’
There are countless ways / to justify company. Hunger, overdue balance, whatever. / Cartoon savage licking the throne clean. / & isn’t that what you always wanted? / To be filled & emptied?
In all the books I love, the hero doesn’t strike first. But then again, none of the heroes look like me.
Half a century on, what does it mean to be part of ASEAN?
For eleven / years I lied about where I’m from, / ashamed by the music of endings, // that deep hollow bell. How much of my yearly / tax is spent to bomb the dirt / that birthed me?, is a question // I never wanted to consider.
pink spam injected into the bloodstream / won’t make one minnesotan, / the difference of an exporter and importer, / colonizer and the colonized with a nine digit ssn
Every spring, a deer must shed antlers used for fighting and each bone branch grows back with the thought of my partner’s return this season, and yet.
but this is boring. let’s talk / about something else. people are only lines / written with water it’s not that serious. i just want to drink / my coffee. i just want to think about roses i misheard / the words as a laugh, beautiful like a song of roses
I meant / to just take a photo of you. Forgive // my trespasses, my negatives, / but remember them. My ghosts // were asked to lay in their bed, / and so said: I am not like them // I am not. This is the blood I’ll leave / behind on bark to bark.
At this point I will disobey and say / you are free to go if you choose. Choice is a complicated part of describing / Palestinian heroes or terrorists.
Oh Mars, you mistook me / for someone / I briefly was. / Girl alight / with impending loss, / vessel for bearing / out an arch / -itectural illusion. A wall / isn’t truly built / to exclude, but to instate / something worth defending.
‘No words of a Savior are news to a Woman. / No words of a resurrection sound gospel[-enough] / when you are both the Crucifixion and the Crowd.’
‘Skin molted like a lazy adder/while sinew pooled like glue.//Bone fractured next/like desert rose glass/then melted too.’
‘We do not want to hover like a line of fog, a river’s shadow, but slower: shadows in conversation, gentle only when we don’t bother expecting to be heard.’
‘A man kisses a pigeon and another kisses a dog and / both times I look away to gather the spikes of trees into a / dripping faucet.’
‘did I ever tell the teacher / we invented a new language that a pair of six year olds spoke fluent / appeasement she pointed to the globe told me to tell him / this is the world and that is America’
‘Cracking the spine, we eat // With fingers mixing and mashing, / ladling for one another, / Karaili, pommecythe, cur-he, / spooning and sliding into our mouths, / Wiping the leaf green.’
‘I roam. Sometimes in solitude; sometimes in a crowd. But unlike a dog, I do not die a little each day, subdued to the loyalty of my master. I die all at once if it must be.’
‘If you spark a flame and turn / it upside down, / you will find it is still / a flame.’
There are no refractions today / by the pepper flakes— in the glass. // The snails slept by the snap pea hooks / and cradles— I salted them. // Sometimes I drank / from a vapored gas— / I made ellipses with my glass.
‘My father likes silence and the past. // He votes for losing candidates (he is so unwilling to love charismatic men.) / He believes in the things we are given, like decency.’
‘these games draw lines / between crowds / i am one of many / who wonder, / how come the silicon valley / squats on san josé?’
To constellate; archipelago. // Portmanteau & neologize. // To fix a golden / foil across the mouth— // a burial mask / to keep the evil out. // To raise walled cities / stone & green with rain.
How the steering wheel / points nowhere except towards itself. / And such is the spinning of the mind: / everywhere. When we drove into new / cities it was only a different shape of haze.
‘No motions./A tonic in page display tufts,/call me switch-foot, a check away from homeless./You get there. Intentional.’
‘After midnight you assemble your limbs back to / their rightful place as you rid the pressure formed / by all day heat and no privacy.’
‘I lifted / an arm, to signify the range / of human voice. Somewhere in the week, / a detour from grief.’
We graze our fingers through damselfish schools, // but our appetites are as insatiate as the sea is for land. / We gnaw the shore, legs wound in seaweed, / skin flayed by the tongues of clams, pulling, pushing.
‘At Downtown Crossing // he trail the shoppers, buying nothing, & rub / his rented nose. He know: myself am hell. / His feet unmoved in the snow.’
‘How many times in the dark? A brick for every freedom to hold its dream in. Will the Sun make his own grim entrance?’
You said you were an ant, eyes frozen / on an indigo wave looming over the world. / (You reset every time / you move forward.)
‘All the bitter things, one by one, in a rush, / She wants to swallow. Clothed in blueblack scales in a forest of iodine-colored seaweeds, / She wants to be chased by a shark.’
‘my hulled hands crash against the tide / to the unloved I will offer / a part of me / in hope my wards will be made complete / for another life’
‘There’s a piece of me / that has never been / to this country and another that never left. // I stare at strangers as if they might be friends. // It took three weeks of traveling / before anywhere looked like home.’
‘He knew the genealogies and coats of arms of / all his neighbors, with pride at its right hand and / cruelty at its left’
‘when I am dark/ when I am no more light/ when I am no / more an abomination/ when I am no more shame/ when I am face / again/ when the collective being of me worships god, family, / education and the collective administrative silver spoon, / then I will be back in the fold.’
‘We are given a face, / which means we are given / a vessel of blood to call body, / & lungs–that know the alchemy / of altering wind into breath–the way / plants are always transforming / someone’s last words / into oxygen.’
‘We melted in amnesia, bubbled up / from the ocean, rinsed clean / of appetite, all healed, / all negated, a sequence of two spines / imitating an arrow. A jaguar loved us. / He licked where our hips had been, / and we cucooked in reply.’
‘You brace yourself against the oncoming. But today the sea glistens like the fish you used to scale.’
‘All your potatoes on the ground—you were never meant for this. The camerawoman tiptoes around spilled tubers as she zooms in on your front teeth, tearing open a parcel of dried shrimp. ‘
‘Murder is to mitosis is to mercy. / We are mostly legs too: part tendon, part pardon, kicking / or curling.’
‘Being alive has again made something new, something that may not be true of justice but is a basic commonplace in evolutionary theory. To forebear is one attitude, rising in an infinite return another.’
‘If not agates, then barnacles, if not / sweet-smelling seaweed, then shattered shells./ The traveler need not journey on. // If not mussels, then sea glass, if not // smooth surfaces, then rocks pocked by anemones. / The traveler’s journey is one of return.’
‘Do you hear / the rainfall beating / on cowhide skin / father? It is the life / of autumn, / supernova / booming’
‘Your mouth a little wound with a little reason to be / involved is why alienation is a body part, which moves / you to harshly ask if death really wanted what it wanted, / if its sole duty is to be observed all the time.’
‘but what if it was something once / vulnerable, downy, and warm? // something severed or stillborn? // something with pulse and blood / and breath bitten right out of it?’
‘And they were a solemn people: naming / the world, mapping it out, arguing about what it meant. Clandestine as / husbands’
‘Pastor says / abstain, says sins of the flesh, says hell. But when we see the boys / with their strong corded necks that make us crazy, we want and we do not.’
“ALL WILL COME BACK FROM ROOTS – NOTHING KILLS BLACKBERRY – BUT WHERE ARE ALL THE SPARROWS”
‘They love long hours of blackout. / They love this snuffed out match / of a little city. To the dust that separates // stained lace. To the poor / thrum of humidity.’
‘The first boy that I dated weighted down his coif / with so much hair gel that the crest atop his pate / was hard as horses’ teeth’
‘No others no-place/what to do but hoard the remaining solaces’
‘It was the mind repeating itself out of hope— / a mind that inhabits the same metaphor over and over’
‘When I ask, the histologist responds, / Cells have no color. / We use ink to color the slides.’
‘The world has a sleek, hot belly / A cue of white space, an inch or several yawning before the drop, towards volta’
“in the jungle they hide until / the seekers, bearing lime leaves jail / them in the silver night.”
Never / reaching orgasm, / the colony names its price and I, / hot cent of foreign cash, / sell it slant. Daughters / say it with ozone: my sex is a metaphor / for too much / good luck.
Be calm. Soon / we will bear sentimentality, scent / what is lost in these cells with carrion, / asphodel, turpentine, forsythia / blooming somewhere in the dark.
When did I first realize my parents were not infinite? / That I could see the end of them? Past their capes & catchphrases?
eating crabs with your fingers pre-Spanish fork and spoon and pre-KFC native chicken you can be served by dancing feathered natives that is true it all tastes good
She petrified her / Secrets. “About what?” / That she’s been chosen. / “She chose silence.” How? / “Like the light, deeply / Fissured.
How scared God must have been / when the woman who ate all the fruit of the tree he’d planted / was cutting out each red body from / between her legs
“In my desire to be Nude / I clothed myself in fire:— / Burned down my walls, my roof / Burned all these down.”
Such atonalities / caught floating through four centuries / in flagrant delicto bear witness
Upon entering a shrine, it seems to hold ghosts / The belly of an abbess suggests pregnancy / Behind a heavy curtain, the suggestion of people
They send flowers before guns now / all the thorns plucked from the stems. / An order to weave the dirge / before the mortar sings.
as if smell promises taste and always delivers. / Pleasure, when observed, wets into compulsiveness.
If these are ghosts, trace them / in the dismal notes of the gutter, / the window’s drumming murmur
I was the smell of ripe lemons in his oxbone nation. I was never / brave. But, he let me eat butter, held me like an egg.
I will float down the stream / until it ends. / Until it ends, the mines avoid me.
I live inside this world that lives inside / me: in this dream, there is nowhere to hide.
My mother left my father more than once. A favorite / family tradition observed when I was four. / Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Leaving is easier / the second time.
Rage dented the silver / trashcan / “fire-crack” or “schrack”
I went to see what people are really like / in a thousand human ways.
The work of nine ekphrastic poets