Large Talk

I do not enjoy small talk.
Comments on how much snow is on the ground
Only makes me want to fall to the ground in boredom
Don’t ask me how my day is going
I don’t want to ask you how your job is

If anything, share a fact about yourself
Me, I somersault into pools a lot
Which means I get disoriented easily
Maybe it’s because I’m always trying to somersault into people

So let’s forgo wading into pleasantries
And dive into the deep end together
Swim in our pasts
Then come up gasping for air
Wondering if we’ll ever touch the bottom
We’ll brave the ripples and tsunamis alike
Just let me get my pool noodles
And empathy first

Oh, and if you’re scared of swimming, that’s okay
We can start small:
You can tell me about the bruises on your thigh
And explain how you’re convinced the corners of desks are out to get you
I’ll chuckle along,
Then ask you why you ever gave up art
Because I know you’d much rather have bruises from
Bumping into your easel
While painting candlelight in the dark

Or, you could describe the person renting the space above your heart
Even though you told them beforehand that
“The plumbing is fickle,
“The AC is broken,
“And there’s dust
“And daydreams lying all over the place”
Tell me about how they smiled at your ramblings,
Then hung cut-out stars from the rafters
Saying that they can’t wait
To start singing along to your heartbeat

Tell me about the panic button in your back pocket
And the time your surgeon hands shook
Speaking of surgeons,
Did you know they write the word ‘no’ in capital letters
On the leg they’re not supposed to amputate?
It just goes to show that everyone has made some pretty big mistakes
So forgive yourself for the broken things

Tell me about what is leaking into your chest
Through the holes you tried to patch up with bubble gum and awkward laughter
Tell me about that one time the dams broke
And how your friends showed up at your doorstep in rain boots
Offering buckets and industrial-strength compassion
Then tell me about monsoon season,
And how you rode your umbrella door-to-door,
Trying to return the favor

Maybe you could mention the marks on your arms
And explain how the cat wasn’t responsible
And that it’s been months since you last drew that cello bow across your strings
Thinking maybe the music would stop the earthquake in your bones
After you finish, I will tell you
There is nothing wrong with having mountain ridges on your skin
They say mountains are caused by the shifting of tectonic plates-
Friend, you may be made of fault lines,
But so am I.
And so is everyone else.

I guess what I’m trying to say is
Don’t be afraid of the burdensome:
Tell me about the growing pains, the phantom pains,
The heaviness you carry within you
Because you do not know a place to set it down
Show me the open graves in your tombstone mind,
The battlefield inside of you where bodies fell,
How the cannons sounded when they broke open the sky

I know some days, it feels like the bloodshed never ended
So I’ll ask you to tell me about the healing; the rebuilding;
The things that came after the war.

I want to know about the way the sunlight followed you,
Instead of the other way around
I want to know about your holy lightning storms
And the chalk-white ashes they left behind
And the way you sang gospel in the dark
When the power was out

See,
You have so much depth to you.
It would have been a shame
To just skim over the surface.

10 Things I Should Have Learned by Now

  1. Waking up early to do homework feels a little like dying inside.
  2. Balloons and toasters really aren’t that scary.
  3. Don’t write impermanent things in permanent ink.
  4. Things are better than they seem.
  5. People are kinder than they seem.
  6. My perception of the sky is affected by my mood, not the other way around.
  7. How to write lists.
  8. Leaving things to the last minute doesn’t create inspiration, it forces panic motivation.
  9. Speaking quietly doesn’t always mean speaking gently.
  10. Sometimes, trying new things has less to do with adventure and more to do with necessity.
When Sarah Kay (go watch her be awesome on YouTube!) does poetry workshops, she assigns lists for people to write. ‘Ten things I should have learned by now’ is one of the lists she often uses.

Instructions for Dinner

You say you cannot cook. I beg to differ.
Anyone can cook if they have the right ingredients
And the right instructions.

1.
Bake the sky into a pie, making sure the crust is flaky.
Top it with the meringue you whip from the clouds.
Infuse a hint of north wind. It adds kick.

2.
Harvest the harvest moon
And prepare it with a side of nostalgia.
Don’t skimp on the memories, even if they’re not good ones;
You won’t be able to tell after it’s done cooking.

3.
Pour the sunset in a cup,
But not before you decide it will be best if chilled before serving.
When you discover that you cannot freeze a sunset, do not fret.
Sometimes the best things in life are room temperature.

4.
Put galaxies into the salt and pepper shakers.
You’ll probably get some stardust on your elbows, but that’s okay;
It just proves that you’ve bumped into some universe.
Besides, elbows are usually handled too roughly,
So to have some brilliance on them for a change
Isn’t a bad thing.

5.
Don’t forget the tablecloth and the cutlery
And the laughter.

6.
Be careful with the china.
It is almost as fragile as you.

7.
Don’t worry about polishing the wineglasses.
No matter how hard anyone tries,
They will never sparkle as much as your eyes do.

Now,
Let us go, you and I,
To feast on the heavens.

September Eleventh

“9/11 was horrible. So was the ignorant treatment of Muslim American citizens afterwards.” -Neil Patrick Harris

We looked for planes.

Children looked for mothers and fathers,
Mothers and fathers looked for the stairways,
Everyone looked for smoke
Coming from crumbling towers
And lives.

We looked for survivors in the streets
And bodies in the rubble.

Afterwards,
There were no towers left to look for.

So we started looking for bombs under burkas,
Started equating the hijab to hijacking,
Associating turbans with terrorists.

Make no mistake:
I am sorry for the thousands of Americans who lost their lives that day.
But I am also sorry for the Pakistani, Iraqi, and Afghan people
Who paid the ultimate price for a crime they did not commit.

All are missed.

In Case of the Inevitable

A/N: The idea and formatting for this poem came from Sarah Kay’s “In the Event of an Emergency”.
 

Scatter my hair to the wind.
Return my feet to the playgrounds and parks.
Give my ears to the forest
And let the leaves croon lullabies.

Brush my teeth. Floss.
Then, return my smile to my parents. It has always belonged to them.

Cast my eyes into the ocean. After so many tears,
Bathing in saltwater makes them feel at home.

Send my calves to Europe, my thighs to Beijing,
My kneecaps to the fields I grew up in.
Let these places know that I sang and danced my way through them.
I can’t walk on water, but my steps have led me to places
I would not hesitate to call holy land.

Offer my left hand to anyone who has ever held it,
Apologize to the people I hit in the third grade.
And the fifth grade.
And the seventh grade.
Tell them I am now the girl
Who never leaves home without band aids in her back pocket,
Hoping she’ll be able to offer them to someone.

Leave my right hand with the person who captured my heart.
In the event that no such person exists,
Return it to my uncle.
He has been behind almost every drawing I’ve made.

Give my journals to my daughter,
But cut out the bookmark ribbons first. Braid them into her hair.
They will help her keep her place when life has too many pages.

Turn the unfinished poems into writing prompts.

You’ll find hair bows in the top drawer of the dresser,
Underneath all the other stuff I didn’t know where to put.
Dig them out. Leave them on trees you encounter.
You’ll find memories in the fourth drawer.
Treat them gently. Leave them lying in your favourite places.

You see, my fragments belong
To other people and places and things
As much as they do to me.

Metronome

I was never good at timing.
See, I have two metronomes on my piano
In the hopes that they can keep me on track.
Every once in awhile
I’ll try to play along to the steady
Tick, tick, tick,
To practice my control over the melody.
I rarely succeed.

The truth is,
Even when I took piano,
In all my ten years of lessons I have never felt inner pulse–
That beat that musicians are supposed to feel.
I was usually rushing, scrambling,
Trying to get to some musical finish line,
And it was true:
I wanted to play my piece as quickly as humanly possible
And get down from that terrifying recital stage.
My teacher told me
“You would play so well,
If only you learned to control your speed.”
These days, there are no recitals to spur me
So I lag
Languishing in time I don’t think I have
Which is probably why my parents keep telling me
“Learn to manage your time,
“And you will do wonderfully on these tests.”

I was never good at timing.
But for my first year theory test
I memorized the speeds of the metronome:
Presto, andante, moderato, largo.
I got a 94% and can list those Italian terms on command even today,
But it seems I still cannot play at a decent clip.
Band teachers talk about internalizing the beat
But I’ve always just tapped my feet while playing
And whenever I get nervous
I tend to do the same thing
Fidgeting has been my crutch–
A second metronome.
But like they say in band class,
“Tapping your feet only takes you so far.”

I am not good at timing.
Whenever I start to speak to someone,
My words don’t like to sit on the beat–
It seems I either talk too fast and too much
Or not enough at all.
One of these days I hope I can stop being so afraid
And I hope I can stop the allegro pace of my anxiety
That comes with me whenever I go to a friend’s house alone
Because my near-flawless imitation of a jumpy rabbit
(Or of a piano recital piece nearing train-wreck speeds)
Is probably not very pleasant to have to sit through.

Some days, it seems like I am a metronome:
Programmed with the wrong speeds
And usually out of sync,
Like my fingers as they press on piano keys.

Nevertheless–
My playing can be unsteady and rocky
And tottering and unsure,
But people still call it lyrical.
I hope that applies to me, too.

Quandaries and Queries

Once, after I read my poetry out loud
A friend congratulated me
Said the cadence of my murmurs
Was meant for spoken-word
And essentially

I have

“The Voice.”

I wanted to say back,
“Maybe, but I don’t have

“The Words.”

I.

Every time I sit down and
Press my fingers into the grooves of the keyboard
I feel like I’m writing my first poem
Over and
Over and
Over again

And that I’m actually writing an essay
With misplaced line breaks
Or that I’m stringing together pretentious metaphors
That don’t really have any meaning
And then, because I’m an English student
I try to reverse analyze
And there’s writing
And deleting
And wondering how other people do it
And “Crap,

“How am I ever going to finish this?”

II.

My longest poem took me three months to finish
And was essentially the Bat Mitzvah of my poetry writing.
To this day, I don’t know if I’ll ever create anything
That will amount to the way I felt
When I read it for the first time.
Is it all downhill from here?

I could just be trying to sound intelligent
By using language that doesn’t quite add up—
Math was never my strong suit.

I was hoping words could be.

III.

Some poetry sings you to sleep
And some prepares you for war
And I want to write both.
But I’m still just figuring out
How to convey whirlwind thoughts,
Tornado ideas and tempestuous designs
So that they do not appear like the limp air
You feel on dreary Tuesday afternoons
When you’re trying to find your car
In a supermarket parking lot.

Maybe it’s good I have a car alarm heart.

IV.

Another friend tells me
“Words can be written by anyone,
“But voices cannot be replicated.”

My teacher notes on my corrected essay
“You write well,
“You just need to meet your deadlines.”

I say to myself
“You were never very good at endings.”

V.

As long as there are puzzle pieces and fault lines and cobblestone alleys
And dancing galaxies and soft hands and ferns that tickled your younger days
And teenager-y emotions and whispers and sunlight
And collaborative blogs made by writerly friends,
There will be words.
Maybe not The Words,
But that’s okay.

They’re our Words.