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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



Once you loved a girl who was the biggest bullshitter you ever met. It was impossible to believe a single thing she said, but she lied with such reckless, over-the-top bravado you couldn’t help but find the performance utterly compelling.

She had flushed cheeks, broad hands. A fleshy wealth of earlobes. Her too-big smile.

Mostly she jostled and badgered and pestered and bickered, but occasionally she’d quiet long enough so you could tap for a moment into that lucent orange current flickering on and off inside her, and when this happened she always made your mouth burn, your chest ache a little.

(Ricardo Alberti)
(Ricardo Alberti)

(Incandescence: Light-bulb filament’s sputtered tungsten vaulting to a higher atomic orbital, refusing to acquiesce to the cascade of electrons, but then the welder’s-torch sizzle of photon sparks when they shower down anyhow to their old orbits, like falling back into a bad habit. Maybe we’re all soft-furred, foolish moths of a sort–haunted by the moon and proved foolish by the counterfeit lumens of incandescence.)

She walked next to you with a little swagger, pulled out chairs, opened doors. An inventive choreographer of electrically ugly public scenes, she frequently needed the frisson of curious voyeurs.

Sometimes, late in the afternoon, you took her into your quiet bedroom, drew the curtains. There, in the pale gray light you slowly pulled off all her clothes, one by one, until the straight lines of boy’s clothes, the boyish posture, fell away and yielded to the plush curves of belly and breast.

Then you, still in your black turtleneck, black pants, and black boots, would arrange her limbs and smell and taste and bite and fuck her until the afternoon was no longer afternoon. Until there was nothing else but the flickered spark of her voice breaking open the dark.

(first published in the Nepotist)

A Wyoming native and second-generation Japanese American, Lee Ann Roripaugh studied music, earning a BM in piano performance and an MM in music history before earning an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the author of Beyond Heart Mountain (1999), which was selected by Ishmael Reed for the National Poetry Series; Year of the Snake (2004); and On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (2009).

(Q Thomas Bower)
(Q Thomas Bower)




He said: you talk to much.
He said fucking his wife
was like doing the stations
of the cross, over and over,
always in the exact same
way. He said: saddle up
your ponies, told me to go 
easy there, hoss, his voice
a blindfold around my head.
I did exactly what he said.
He liked my thick hair, liked
squeezing my mouth slowly
open with finger and thumb,
prying down my lower lip
before gently grazing there.
Soon after he stopped
saying anything, held me
spellbound in his gaze, his 
hand palming the backside 
of my head, cradling it like
a newborn calf, his hardness
riding up against my loins,
crushing my sex, the bruises
only showing later as proof
of his sudden visitation—
late afternoon sun starting
to dip below the ridge, 
the sky itself tuning from
champagne to cinnamon,
his body all vice and torque
as he took me in his arms,
bride and chattel, his tongue
a branding iron that took
its time, burning the moment 
into me, a wetness already
pearling there, his eyes
scratching out the prayers
I knew by heart, I who knew
there'd likely be nothing 
left when he got through.

Timothy Liu has two new books forthcoming, Kingdom Come: A Novel (Talisman House, 2013) and Don’t Go Back To Sleep: Poems (Saturnalia Books, 2014). He lives in Manhattan with his husband.