Essays    Reportage    Marginalia    Interviews    Poetry    Fiction    Videos    Everything   
Straddling Convention: The Erotic in Asian American Poetry

Ocean Vuong, in search of the “new erotic,” guest-curates a portfolio of poems in time for Valentine’s Day.

By Ocean Vuong


[The boss has a band of people around her the way]

The boss has a band of people around her the way 
            a band bends around her finger the boss’s 
      husband calls her a Rottweiler a watchdog a powerful
                  breed with guarding instincts and strong desire 

to control one day at a park I watched a Rottweiler chase 
            a ball chase after me I ran the Rottweiler 
      ran I jumped into the water the Rottweiler 
                  swam its mouth open forty-two rotting

teeth tongue out I jumped from the water looked 
            at my own wagging tail my Rottweiler top coat 
      of black the boss behind me clothes dripping forehead 
                  wrinkles panting smiling putting her fogged

glasses back on once there were films where people 
            didn’t speak and we wanted nothing more 
      even our hearts try to get bigger a hundred 
                  thousand times each day

(from The Boss, McSweeney’s Poetry Series 2013)

Writer and editor Victoria Chang earned a BA in Asian studies from the University of Michigan, an MA in Asian studies from Harvard University, and an MBA from Stanford University. Her collections of poetry include Circle (2005), winner of the Crab Orchard Review Award Series in Poetry, and Salvina Molesta (2008). Her poems have been published in the Kenyon Review, Poetry, the Threepenny Review, and the anthology the Best American Poetry 2005.

(Daniel Horacio Agostini)



The Circumcision

Light diffused through the blanket.  I faced the rise 
and fall of my father's stomach and plunged my hand 
carefully through the elastic waist bands of his shorts,
startled at how different his penis 
looked from mine: darker, not only the skin 
but the hair around it like tree shadows.
Its head, a gravity-defying, moth-eating house lizard, 
had no flap of skin over it.  How free it looked,
powerful, shaped like a bullet, and instead of taking life,
it gave life.  I petted it.  My father
shifted to my direction and continued his snoring.  Slowly, 
the penis rose as if it was absorbing the light, the air,
my touch.  It stiffened, flaunting itself
as the center of the universe.
I wanted my penis to be 
like my father's, the union of beauty and purpose, 
and five years later, on a thirsty July afternoon, 
he asked me and my brother to hurry up,
he was taking us to the doctor for our circumcisions.  
I buttoned my pants cautiously as my sisters teased: 
They are sending you both to the butcher.
My mother stood on the threshold 
and sent us on our way, the most important men 
in her life, her father many years dead.  I held my father's
hand, all two blocks to the clinic
where I spread for the doctor, and thanked the inventor
of anesthesia.  I heard the snipping sound vividly, felt 
the smooth trickle of warm blood and the otherworldly
contact of hard metal on skin.  The relief of the operation's 
end was ephemeral.  My penis resembled little of my father's:
the flap removed, the head smooth and tender, yet 
it looked ragged, humbled, beaten, like a man down on his luck. 
When the anesthesia wore off, the throbbing pain 
seemed to be eating up my groin. My brother and I 
inched our way back home,
our smiling father walking patiently beside us. 
How funny we must be to him,
his minions bow-legged with what might as well have been 
egg shells in between our thighs.  When the stitches 
heal, I thought, and when the raw skin has time 
to acclimate to the elements—air, touch—I will possess
the potential.  My father placed a hand on each of our shoulders,
and there in the doorway, as if a painting in its gilded frame,
was my mother waiting for her sons.

(from Imago, Cavan Kerry Press 2007)

Joseph O. Legaspi is the author of Imago (CavanKerry Press) and the forthcoming chapbook, Subways (Thrush Press). He lives in Queens, NY and works at Columbia University. He co-founded Kundiman, a non-profit organization serving Asian American poetry.