Poetry Feature: Asian American


To be Asian American, by virtue of its linguistic construction, is to be somewhat less or more than just plain American, a happenstance that many would gladly exchange for the chance to don an identity not so fraught with expectation and prejudice.

Though we are rarely overtly persecuted, we are invisibly undermined, expected to be quiet, studious, and deferential, while being overlooked by media and corporate interests, the twin pillars of America. Yet this very invisibility can prove an asset to the writer who stands silently on the fringes, observing the orbit of human behavior. And having two cultures from which to draw a sense of self can be ultimately redemptive.

One purpose of this compilation is to celebrate that duality. What we found so exciting while sifting through the work we received was how varied it was: No one theme dominated, no style resembled another, no aesthetic sense was more prevalent than any other. We received such an overflow of strong voices that choosing among them was very difficult; these writers delve, not only into the question of what it means to inherit a heritage, but into what it means to embody the full meditative, lusty, gendered, loving, bemused, raging, mystical spectrum of human experience.

Here, the English language--capacious enough to hold the consciousnesses of so many diverse personalities--is both vehicle and terrain. That is not to say that the reverberation of other cultures and tongues is absent. On the contrary, the grain of another land--no matter how many generations past--has been digested and turned into sustenance in the minds of these writers.

The translations, forged in the fire of contemporaneity, aim for tone--what Robert Lowell singled out as the crucial element of poetry--assuring that the poet's music in the original can thrive in a foreign language. [See Poetry/Translations. Eds.]

In the poetry and fiction gathered here, relics from a place not this place abound. It is those details--along with the exquisite deployment of craft--which make this body of work coherent. One thrills to see such talent steadfastly refuse to dissolve in the "big melting pot."

Every culture needs its scribes. Many in this group of writers have been nurtured and guided by the Asian American Writers' Workshop (AAWW) which is celebrating its tenth year anniversary this September. Ten years ago, a small group of writers seeking an outlet for their creativity--as well as a community in which to share their writing--but finding no satisfying niche, began their own casual workshop which occasionally met at the Magnolia Café in the East Village. They began to distribute flyers around New York City, inviting Asian American writers to join in on their meetings. The mailing address of the "workshop " was actually the home address of Curtis Chin, one of the organizers. The others were Bino Realuyo, Christina Chiu and Marie Lee.

The need to write prompted this group to invite friends and organize readings. Word gradually spread. The group eventually applied for a grant as a non-profit organization, and funding from the New York Community Trust put the Asian American Writers' Workshop on the literary map.

Initially the Workshop shared office space with A. Magazine, an Asian American lifestyles magazine on Elizabeth Street, but in 1995, it moved to a basement office space on St. Mark's Place. It was there that the Asian American Bookseller began offering every known title by every Asian American writer, creating, for the first time, the Asian American writing genre. The Bookseller showcased journals such as The Asian Pacific American Journal (APA Journal), spearheaded by Christina Chiu, which continues to play a significant role in empowering emerging Asian Americans writers. Eric Gamalinda, Eileen Tabios, and Tina Chang stepped forward to lend their publishing expertise to the APA Journal and to Ten, the literary news magazine of the AAWW. Soon afterward, the AAWW became its own small press, publishing anthologies, such as Flippin', Contours of the Heart, Quiet Fire, and Watermark, among others.

As the publishing aspect of the Workshop grew, so did its public face. A local reading series begun in 1995 included writers such as John Yau, Arthur Sze, Luis H. Francia, Luis Cabalquinto, Nick Carbo, Timothy Liu, Jessica Hagedorn, and Kimiko Hahn, some of whom are included in these pages. A nomadic reading series dubbed "The Literary Caravan" was started to allow writers to travel to universities nationwide to share their work with college students. A public performance series initiated by Gary San Angel staged acts such as the highly acclaimed all-male performance group, Peeling the Banana. CreateNow was conceived a year later by the Arts-in-Education department to reach out to high school students through writing workshops and by connecting students to established writers. In 1998, The Asian American Literary Awards were established, signaling what Luis H. Francia has called an act of "interpreting the term 'Asian American' and its implied dimensions with the long-overdue fullness and inclusiveness that it demands."

The beginning of the millennium marked yet another milestone: The AAWW moved from its dim basement office on St. Marks Place to a large, sunny loft overlooking Korea Town. The move was due largely to the efforts of Quang Bao, current Managing Director. From the mere seed of an idea to a fully functional non-profit organization, the AAWW is now accomplishing what it set out to do: The Workshop supports, honors, and provides a community for Asian American literature. <www.aaww.org>

Louis Althusser, the French Marxist, believed that "I" am not "me" through any willful self-engagement, but rather, through the shared discourse that "I" must implicitly accept in order to communicate and even to exist. This collection marks the celebration of the decade-long existence of an organization committed to making Asian American voices heard. The poem, stories, and translations herein represent the kind of shared discourse that each of us, consciously or not, Asian or not, participates in every day. These writers' skilled explorations of crucial issues, such as how to deal with existence in a dimension of stereotype while still creating a liberated world through imagination, go a long way towards defining what it means to be Asian, yet American.

We extend our congratulations to the Asian American Writers' Workshop for ten years of abundance and our thanks to the editors of Big City Lit.

Guest Editors:
Tina Chang
Rafiq Kathwari
Ravi Shankar

[We have scheduled this feature for a public reading and recording session on Thursday, October 4 at the AAWW loft at 16 West 32nd Street in Midtown. Eds.]

~ . ~

Photo: © 2001 George Kunze
Agha Shahid Ali

Depths of Fields
Nassau Lights

Luis Cabalquinto

Ay. Que Dolo!
Nick Carbo

Brian Komei Dempster

Monica Ferrell

Dogless in Manhattan
Luis H. Francia

Adam's Dream
Tiffany Fung

Boys of My Generation
Mondo Grass

Eric Gamalinda

Eugene Gloria

Luisa A. Igloria

Neon Vancouver
Paolo Javier

The Korean Community Garden
Sue Kwock Kim

White Coral on Black Lava
Jeffrey Leong

Ladies Dying
Timothy Liu

The Dolls' Quarter
In the City of Pale Deer and Resin Scent

Miho Nonako

In the City of Pale Deer and Resin Scent
Miho Nonako

Jon Pineda

Made in India, Immigrant Song #3
Purvi Shah

Lobed Bowl with Black Glaze and White Scalloped Rim
Arthur Sze

Tercets from The Book of Revelation
Eileen Tabios

The Secret Life of Trees
Barbara Tran

~ . ~ . ~

Agha Shahid Ali

Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar

--Laurence Hope

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight
before you agonize him in farewell tonight?

Pale hands that once loved me beside the Shalimar:
Whom else from rapture's road will you expel tonight?

Those "Fabrics of Cashmere--" "to make Me beautiful--"
"Trinket" -- to gem -- "Me to adorn --How--tell"--tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates--
A refugee from pity seeks a cell tonight.

cried out the idols, Don't let us be broken:
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

In the heart's veined temple all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron's left to toll its knell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee--
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

(Prior publ.: A Country Without a Post Office (W.W. Norton, 1997). Reprinted with permission.)

(Agha Shahid Ali is on the poetry faculty of the University of Utah and of Warren Wilson College. His ninth collection of poems, Rooms Are Never Finished (W. W. Norton), is scheduled for distribution in Fall 2001.)


~. ~

Depths of Fields
Luis Cabalquinto

I walk some hundred paces from the old house
where I was raised, where many are absent now,

and the ricefields sweep into view: here where
during home leaves I'm drawn to watch on evenings

such as this, when the moon is fat and much given
to the free spending of its rich cache of light

which transmutes all things: it changes me now,
like someone restored to the newness of his life.

Note the wind's shuffle in the crown of tall coconut
trees; the broad patches of moon-flecked water --

freshly-rowed with seedlings; the grass huts of
croppers, windows framed by the flicker of kerosene

lamps: an unearthly calm pervades all that is seen.
Beauty unreserved holds down a country's suffering.

Disclosed in this high-pitched hour: a long-held
secret displaced by ambition and need, a country

boy's pained enchantment with his hometown lands
which remains intact in a lifetime of wanderings.

As I look again, embraced by depths of an old
loneliness, I'm permanently returned to this world,

to the meanings it has saved for me. If I die now,
in the grasp of childhood fields, I'll miss nothing.



Nassau Lights
Luis Cabalquinto

We are conscripted by the moonlight as
Witnesses to its fine postulates on the kinship

Between our human skin and this earthly sand:
It calls out to other lights in the mind.

We see a starry night's outstretched hand
In the quick outline of a gesture, that of a lover.

We get punchy in the sudden joy of this freedom
From the closed-teeth watching of ourselves.

And now we look at the glitter of a wave approach:
One more light to join us, to bear witness.

(Luis Cabalquinto lives in Manhattan but divides his writing time between New York City and his birthplace in Magarao, Philippines. His new book of poetry, Bridgeable Shores, will be released by Kaya Press in September, 2001.)

~ . ~

Ay, Que Dolo!
Nick Carbo

Dona Josefina has thrown my goat
out onto the calle El Fez--
Ay! The menu of pain is as big
as a queen-sized aha umbrella.

The lolita from the barrio chino licks
the sellos and then my luau--
there is a hint of ajo from Ab-derabad,
with periodos of adages and lapis lazuli.

I have known the fonda of Dona Josefina,
the jetty of her hips, under the veil
of her mild protests where pigs and lox
do mix in a yodel of ah-do-do-dah.

The lolita from the barrio chino is a rider
of net gains and bronze sea snakes--
she holds a baroque club in one hand
and ma of mana from a mouse in the other.

(Nick Carbo, author of two books of poetry, El Grupo McDonald's (1995) and Secret Asian Man (2000), has won fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts (1997) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (1999).)

~ . ~

Brian Komei Dempster

Uncle, did I come to see you as only half a man
with your shaved head and lead blanket,
half the weight, half the breath, half the smile,
only half of you looking at the doctor
who loaded up the transparency, used a ruler
to show the tumor, its increments,
this angle, 70%, that angle, 50%, back at half
again, in this case, your chance of living.
1 set of x-rays needed, a 2nd opinion, a 3rd, each
arbitrary as the 4 vertebrae swarmed
by the 4,123 diseased cells, the 7,000
blood count, 5,126 swollen lymphs,
and the fact that there were 3 doctors,
6 orderlies, 9 interns, only made calculations
trickier. 2 options: 48 weeks of radiation
or 12 hours under the knife. 3 pills a day
after either treatment. Within 1 year
a 50% chance to live. A 250,000
deductible to cover costs after the 8th week.
1 oxygen tank and cane for full recovery.
The 1 opaque streak vanishing from
the transparency. The 2 cigars we smoked
to celebrate. Our 1-hour tennis match,
the score 6-3 because you didn't want
any measure of pity, my 5 aces, your 4 double
faults, no strategy against the 3 opaque streaks
growing back into the transparency. The 29 steps
to your room where I tied the white laces
of your gown. The 1 tuna fish sandwich
I brought you Sunday, the 7th, at 8 p.m.,
2 bites while you looked out the window
at 2 sparrows darting back and forth, warbling
atop 1 branch, a single pine cone falling.

(Prior publ.: Quarterly West. Reprinted with permission.)

(Brian Komei Dempster's poems have appeared in The Asian Pacific American Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Ploughshares, and Quarterly West.)


~ . ~

Monica Ferrell

Hum as the day goes under: it's bats' wings.
Opening a closet door, the stale air
Gusts out. Don't answer the telephone.
Don't think of unshuttering your mouth
Lest the moths boil out. Rustle through
Plastic sacks; they're all empty but
One ripped snatch of horsehair,
Balding patch torn from my tongue.
Along the street, dead cars creep
Like drugged bugs, while in the carved doorway
A man and his girl nuzzle their death-match.
February, and we're supposed to be glad
That it's almost over. I will be in Tangier
I will face east, I will face east--
I am a paper snake some fakir is charming
Out of a dirty hat.

(Monica Ferrell is a 2001 "Discovery" / THE NATION winner. Her poems have appeared in the Paris Review and the Boston Review.)

~ . ~

Dogless in Manhattan
Luis H. Francia

sometimes a belief in god
overcomes my dog

over his face something steals
rearranging it

a hand perhaps or the brush of a
wing, invisible to faithless me

deliberately he pads by
his bowl fastidiously laid out
with chunks of red meat
the daily communion of his dog's life

my desperate desire to please
ignored, my offer once more to
explore the profane mysteries of
our neighborhood spurned

my dog, my dog,
why have you forsaken me?

he stops by the open door
and fixes his eyes on
an other

in his gaze
understanding leashed to
humility, and a devotion
far surpassing that to
his earthly master

he regards me briefly, a
hint of sadness
for my man's fate

for he who bites has been bit
becomes Dog Almighty
still in the same skin
black still and white his paws

only a fool cannot see the grace upon him

somewhere light swallows up holes

time and revelation pass
he drops the bone of faith
reverts to playing pooch, the
well-rehearsed role of friend

has nothing changed then?
so it seems.

and yet when we go out into
the day's waning to play, I
sense a lift higher as he forays in
air like an angel after a stick thrown
at improbable angle

he looks at me now with
compassion, pats my
hand with his head,
tail motions all's well

reasserting normalcy
engulfing me in his love
I know beyond a seer's certainty

that he will die for me

wanting me to arrive at
that sacred place
this moment
this dusk
this spring
this life
of ordinary ache and extraordinary music

(Luis H. Francia's most recent work is Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago (Kaya Press, 2001), part memoir, part political and cultural critique of the Philippines.)


~ . ~

Adam's Dream
Tiffany Fung

I awoke and found it truth.
This life of sensations--
I scarcely remember counting

Upon any happiness, nothing startled me
Beyond the cold moment.
My mind in its infancy was full of heat

And fever, widening speculation.
I dreamt of a help-mate
Twinning this air and space with me,

Rich in the simple worship of a day.
I remained in a mist, my unguessed fate
Spread as a veil between You and me.

Awake, I run away from what was in my head
(No leisure to brood over you)
Some leaning towards a climate-curse.

The balance of good and evil lies limbed
In the leaves—something real entered the world;
Pretty is not the word, but I witnessed

The last creature to leave Your hand.
Identity of every animal
Began to press upon me:

Try sitting with your wings furled for months.
My mind slept almost over-occupied,
An artist of nouns will dream of nothing less;

My imagination, horribly vivid about you.
Where else could I look for consolation?
The ache in my side settles to absence.

Still weak in mind, my knowledge of contrast
Falters—if I should not recover—
Will all my unnamed faults be pardoned?

Out of the shadow and into the light,
She walks this garden for the first time;
I cannot recall whose child I am.

(Tiffany Fung is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at Columbia University. [See the May 2001 feature, "Degrees of Affinity," which includes Fung's work, as the only student contributor alongside Alfred Corn, Lucie Brock-Broido, William Wadsworth, David Yezzi, and other distinguished faculty or alumni from the Columbia Writing Division. Eds.])

~ . ~

Boys of My Generation
Eric Gamalinda

One went to war with his own people,
learned how to assemble an M-16
even before he learned how to masturbate.
Another went to business school, and then
to London, and another married several
actresses, one of them young enough
to be his daughter. One became a newscaster
on TV, and one crossed the borders of Italy
on foot, to work as a toilet cleaner
in a palazzo in Rome.

And I became a poet
so I could put my bitterness to good use.
So I would have nothing to do
with the government of humans,
so I would remember till old age
the sour aftertaste of illicit love.

A decade into the new millennium
we will hold a congress
to determine what we've done.
We will come from all over the earth,
we will remark how everyone
has changed and remained the same.
One will say, I killed a hundred people
in one night. Another will say,
I made love in all the possible
positions known to man.
And another, I ate wild berries
and the soles of my shoes.
And another, my mother died
in my arms. And another, we waited
and waited, but the end of the world
never came.

~ .

Mondo Grass
Eric Gamalinda

You take your mondo grass from Japan and plant it
All over the lawn of a museum for contemporary
Art. You take your tobacco farmers from Ilocos
And make them plant pineapple in Hilo.
Crossbreed hapa and haole and see
What kind of pidgin they'll write love poems in.
Pollen are like people, they migrate and fertilize
And sometimes they make us sneeze.
Every second a million cells in your body die.
Too much endorphin in the brain is not
Such a bad thing. But too much happiness
Is like too much sugar, lethal in the long run.
Coffee makes you remember, water makes you
Forget. You take a poem you wrote in your blood
Twenty years ago and strike out all the lines.
Nothing's left but punctuation and a freeway
Of erasures. That's it: only the open road.
The blood dried long ago. Poems are dead things,
A slow process of decomposition. If they don't
Decay, something terrible has gone wrong.

(Eric Gamalinda's collection of poems, Zero Gravity (Alice James Books, 1998), won the Asian American Literary Award for 2000. He is currently working on a collection of poems called Amigo Warfare.)

~ . ~

Eugene Gloria

My beautiful, unlucky brother is a deadbeat
a scofflaw, a veteran of foreign wars.
When the Viet Cong god sent him back to us,
my mother prayed to the Virgin
in repentance for her threat to disown him
when he considered Canada instead of the draft.
In Khe Sanh my brother bivouacked through rice paddies,
though I picture him in rubber slippers
along rice terraces in the Ifugao,
in villages beneath a corrugated sky.
When darkness shut into the dark,
he spied the enemy through his nightscope,
marching like a trail of black ants,
loaded down with light
mortars, scant provisions, and their wounded.

After his tour,
I found a snapshot I wasn't supposed to see--
a captive boy, his ankles held up
by a smiling soldier and another slicing off his balls.
When my brother had arrived at his manhood,
he called me. It was after the neighborhood boys
were gathered before Goteng, a part-time
healer and collector of discarded glass.
Circumcised, my brother slumped on his bed,
his cock wrapped in guava leaf, and bleeding.
In his hand was a gift, the blue marble,
the one he named the Conqueror.

Once there was a bridge
that sagged to the river and beckoned him
to drown with all his gear.
And all the women he has ever loved
would take up his bags and bless his failures,
unpack his last clean shirts--white
like his mestizo skin and delicate as his sisters'.

Beautiful, unlucky brother,
sleepwalking amid the ruins, I call
you back to your desires
along the rim of terraces, back
to the shallow water flourishing with young rice.

(Eugene Gloria's first collection of poems is, Drivers at the Short-Time Motel (Penguin). He is a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, an artist grant from the San Francisco Art Commission, 96 Inc.'s Bruce P. Rossley Literary Award, and the Poetry Society of America's George Bogin Memorial Award.)


~ . ~

Luisa A. Igloria

An article in the U.S. News & World
on the rise of stepfamilies

gives ours this name, as if the writer
took his inspiration from the plastic

cup of yogurt he ate at his desk, barely
swallowing as he clicked away

at the keyboard. He may have been
rushing to beat his deadline, which

could explain the use of this metaphor
that too easily conjures the smoothed-over

folds of flavor, ascorbic balanced with the sweet
and flecked with bits of real fruit you can dig

up from the bottom, under a blanket of vanilla.
The faces on the cover of the magazine, it's true,

could be replaced by ours. How long
did it take them to get comfortable

about things like farting in each
other's presence? How long before

a child stops watching from the corner
of her eye, the mother kissed on the mouth

or nuzzled from behind, at the sink? How long
before she can hold out her arms and say "daddy"

without thinking, rehearsing all night in her head?
Perhaps the fairy tales are all to blame, having given us

the witch with her painted-on smile and shiny
poison apple; the woman in the forest,

her sugared cages, her dreams of children
roasting in the oven. Bluebeard has his

locked tower of dead ex-wives; when she
figures out which key fits in which key-

hole, in which door, his new wife
discovers them swimming in tubs of blood

redder than maraschino cherries.
Even I had nightmares at three,

after I confessed to scribbling on the lampshade
with ink, and my mother threatened to un-

birth me. Shadows blur, cross our courtyard,
blending with the light. How long

before every refusal to finish
what's on the plate, every verbalized

complaint about terrible parenthood, about
whose turn it is to wash dishes or why

it's time to go to bed, ceases to be
a personal attack? How long before it gets

easier to sight the quick, spontaneous smile
or wave, cast anchor at the small, bright islands, both

buoyant and sinkable? I think of how we each make
our way, of how the undercurrents teem

and swirl with all the languages and weathers
that tangle, always palpably, at our seams.

(Luisa A. Igloria's sixth collection of poems is Songs For The Beginning Of The Millennium (De La Salle University Press, Manila,1999). Recipient of many awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, she teaches at The Institute for the Study Of Minority Issues at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.)

~ . ~

Neon Vancouver


Paolo Javier

ii. Inertia Tackled at the E & B

Hawking Quantums, Serotonin Levels boost
the pair's reduction on romance when
coffee arrives amid stacked sheets.

Suddenly motes contract: 'Stupendous, eh
how Terry the Waitress clumps both cups bare,
and not flinch! Too old a brew, perhaps?

Decades at it dulls the nerves.
Regard her mouth's corners, the smeared rouge.
But her gait, albeit shaggy, tickles still

with the swagger of another day. This late, and
she's calling even the trucker gurgling Coke in
the back love. How? Hardly insouciance,

or inner bravado, especially not with her tilted crown.
Silly to honor this place a dead end for her,
out of life's shelf she has picked a Bukowski.

But were there other poets present?'
The pair's undecided so Terry herself orders,
'Always swell to have young folk in here!'

The next table's gaunt new immigrant's intent on his eggs.
'Ga-dam! Is hot!' and 'A refill, please,' dipping
his jellied toast counter-clockwise in the yolk.

'As I postulated he would,' brays the lankier one,
his bible of a textbook unfurled as their chicken wings
turn crisp in a wok gripped with ease.

(Paolo Javier's poems are forthcoming in the Asian Pacific American Journal, Prism International, and Tinfish. He teaches at New York University.)


~ .

The Korean Community Garden
Sue Kwock Kim

In the vacant lot nobody else bothered to rebuild,
dirt scumbled for years with syringes and dead
weed husks, tire shreds and smashed beer bottles,
the first green shoots of spring spike through

bull brier, redroot, pokeweed, sow thistle,
an uprising of grasses whose only weapons are themselves.
Blades slit through scurf. Spear-tips spit dust
as if thrust from the other side. They spar and glint.

How far will they climb, grappling for light?
Inside I see coils of fern-bracken called kosari,
bellflower cuts named toraji in the old country.
Knuckles of ginger and mugwort dig upward,

shoving through mulched soil until they break
the surface. Planted by immigrants, they survive,
like their gardeners, ripped from their native
plot. What is it they want, driving and driving

toward a foreign sky? How not to mind the end
we'll come to? I imagine the garden underground,
where gingko and ailanthus grub cement rubble.
They tunnel slag for foothold. Wring crumbs of rot

for water. Of shadows, seeds foresung as Tree
of Heaven
& Silver Apricot in ancient Mandarin,
their roots tangle now with plum or weeping willow,
their branches mingling with tamarack or oak.

I love how nothing in these furrows grows unsnarled,
nothing stays unscathed. How last year's fallen stalks,
withered to pith, cleave to this year's crocus bulbs,
each infant knot burred with bits of garbage or tar.

Fist to fist with tulips, iris, selving and unselving
glads, they work their metamorphoses in loam
pocked with rust-flints, splinters of rodent skull
a ground so mixed, so various that everything

is born of what it's not. Who wouldn't want
to flower like this? How strangely they become
themselves, this gnarl of azaleas and roses-of-Sharon,
native to both countries, blooming as if drunk

with blossoming. Green buds suck and bulge.
Stem-nubs thicken. Sepals swell and crack their cauls.
Lately every time I walk down this street to look
through the fence, I'm surprised by something new.

Yesterday hydrangea and chrysanthemums burst
their calyxes, corolla skins blistering into welts.
Today jonquils slit blue shoots from their sheaths.
Tomorrow day-lilies and wild asters will flame petals,

each incandescent color unlike: sulfur, blood, ice,
coral, fire-gold, violet the hue of shaman robes
every flower with its unique glint or slant, faithful
to each particular. All things lit by what they neighbor

but are not, each tint flaring without a human soul,
without human rage at its passing. In the summer
there will be scallions, mung beans, black sesame,
muskmelons, to be harvested into buckets and sold

at market. How do they live without wanting to live
forever? May I, and their gardeners in the old world,
who kill for warring dreams and warring heavens,
who stop at nothing, say life and paradise are one.

(Sue Kwock Kim is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, The Nation, The New Republic, Yale Review, Salmagundi, Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, New England Review. [Work appears with partial edits only. Eds.])

~ . ~

White Coral on Black Lava
Jeffrey Leong

(for the graffiti artists of Kona-Kailua,
and Cesar Vallejo)

If I die, let me first tell you how much I love you,
on a Tuesday, heat of unblinking Hawaiian sun
burning the fields of pahoehoe and a'a on the Kohala coast.
But even before that, how much Mele loves Troy,
and Leilani & Keola will be forever, like the chunks
of once living coral, calcified shells which housed invertebrate souls,
now lie in pure white contrast against the black heart
of motionless lava, Mauna Kea's most recent eruption in 1859.
Soon, someone may rearrange what I am saying,
as easily as stink eye becomes aloha,
the inevitable movement of stone statement on glassine banks,
so observe the occasional cindered tree,
fire-gutted, charred-ember reminder of molten heat now cold.
This is what I want to say (temporary good
rubbed into the sea salt of life):
know white coral on a vast plain of black lava
My message, not offered in Paris on a Thursday
while it is raining and with the various bones of my arms rearranged,
but here, in Kona, on the biggest of islands,
in this sunny place called paradise.

(Jeffrey Thomas Leong's poems are forthcoming in The Asian Pacific American Journal and Flyway: A Literary Review. He lives in San Leandro, California. [Work appears unedited. Eds.)

~ . ~

Ladies Dying
Timothy Liu

to help the homeless get into shape
during daily bible study sexual cycle
to rebuild self-confidence far beyond
that figure others crave a destitute
white habit called upon to drive two
grams of alcohol from here to the other
side as crash the press outside Le Petit
Rameau where speeding paparazzis race
down glossy spreads to be superfit
a treadmill struggle some doctors call
an ideal body-weight disorder in a jar
of peaches exploding in some pantry
singling out a bottom-feeding flack
cashing in on a sitcom stashed inside
a princess floating down a hot Venetian
canal where hunks caught flaunting
cock for cash cavort outside a hellish
hotel fire rooftop rescuers lowering
the rope on floozies whose Latin would
make us lurch like a limited edition
collector plate ringed in 24 karat gold
an heirloom fit to serve reduced-fat
cheese while a doll mulls over going
under the knife distracted by nay-sayers
who launch a streamlined road to riches
speed-obsessed by limo love hell-bent-
for-leather backseat joyride requiring
liquid asset rent-free royal residence
or a flag-draped corpse the cortege's
centerpiece the biggest selling single
surpassing Bing's "White Christmas"
multi-million dollar candle in the wind
riding on a flower-bedecked hearse
all of us wanting to touch her gold her
Paris in the purse like a La Gioconda
devoured in the Louvre by auto-focus
flash frame by frame a hand-held lens
zooming-in on Assisi monks pinned
by chunks of Giotto in the latest quake
"La donna è mobile" wafting through—

(Timothy Liu's latest book of poems is Hard Evidence (Talisman House, 2001). His new work is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Tin House, Triquarterly and Yale Review. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.)

~ . ~

The Dolls' Quarter
Miho Nonako

It is strange how people mistake my hyacinth
For an imitation. The sound of rain orphans
My flower; its petals recurve like false lashes
In my grey room. You will never be able to see

This star as I saw it. You don't understand:
It is like the heart of a heartless flower, says
Nadja, quite removed from her growing insanity
I can only admire. Your neck smells of rain;

When the world is wet, I smell distant things
As if they were part of my body all this time.
The artist next door makes glass eyes that blink
At a marble's click, puts a lilac flame in each iris.

~ .

In the City of Pale Deer and Resin Scent
Miho Nonako

I am uneasy whenever a book opens
By itself on a windless day, and outside the window,
All clouds have lost their roots.
It is forbidden to pin a butterfly on the wall

At one's desire. Already, its wings have mapped
Most of the streets in the city
Where the beasts and people walk
Slow-pulsed and free of shadows.

When I awake, you are dozing on and off
At the Weather Station in a different city
In the time I need you most, you cast an anthelion on some sky

With your fingers. My fear won't ever wake you,
And from one world to the other,
Butterflies carry ill omens to forecast
Another white rainbow between the two cities.

(Miho Nonako is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts
in creative writing at Columbia University.)

~ . ~

Jon Pineda

The morning after their son is born, he goes home to feed the cats.
He drives through Ghent, with its thick Victorians, and crosses the tracks

To the edge of Riverview where the same-styled homes stand,
Though the paint peeling from each shutter makes them seem ruined

Somehow. At the stoplight, he watches a transvestite slowly cross the street.
Her body hunched, protective, she is nursing a cup of coffee and the steam

That rises now, the soul of it, its warmth vanishes in front of her face.
He thinks of their son, newborn, sealing his lips to his mother's breast,

And it is this thought that he carries across the Lafayette Bridge, the cold
Water stirring underneath. At home, the cats lick their bowls clean.

(Jon Pineda is a recipient of a 2000 Virginia Commission for the Arts grant in poetry. Recent work has appeared in the Asian Pacific American Journal, the Literary Review, and Tilting The Continent: An Anthology of Southeast Asian Writing (New River Press, 2000.))


~ . ~

Made in India, Immigrant Song #3
Purvi Shah

(a note from a New York City streetwalker)

Some worker in the sweat
of Madras, some former weaver
from Kashmir, some hand in Ahmadabad's dust,
has been pounding iron again.

The New York streets swell;
multihued tracks glide over the flat steel
disks which offer entry into the city's interior
lairs. The writing seeps through our soles
though few fathom the signature, "Made
in India." These alien

metal coins, transported
like my birth, mask
a labyrinth of tunnels
in a city where origin
and destination are confused.
Sometimes I wear the stamp
on myself; sometimes I feel
the wear of a surrounding world erase
the fine etchings. Here the imprint

of India is a traveler's
mutation: the body's chamber is made
hole, the skin not smooth, circular,
but cloaking a bumpy network
of channels, spirit mobile, expanding.

(Purvi Shah's poems have appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Brooklyn Review, Crab Orchard Review, Descant, Weber Studies, Contours of the Heart, and are forthcoming in BlackWater Review, Many Mountains Moving, and Natural Bridge.)

~ . ~

Lobed Bowl with Black Glaze and White Scalloped Rim
Arthur Sze

Turning from the obituary page,
he hears a screw tighten,
recalls a dead sparrow on a greenhouse floor.

The mind can be dipped in a vat
when you slice an eggplant, sharpen a pencil,
shave. He woke slowly as light

sank through the skylight, brightening
the bedroom. He recalls running
his tongue from her breast to her armpit

as she shivered and ached with pleasure.
An elder holds an eagle feather,
wafts cedar smoke, taps a woman

on her shoulders. He wants a mind
as pure as a ten-lobed bowl
with black glaze and white scalloped rim.

A broad-tailed hummingbird whirs in the air--
and in a dew drop on a mimosa leaf
is the day's angular momentum.

(Arthur Sze has published seven collections of poems, including The Redshifting Web (Copper Canyon, l998) and The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts.) [See Sze's translations in the accompanying section. Eds.]

~ . ~

Tercets from The Book of Revelation
Eileen Tabios

(after Rupert Thomson's "The Book of Revelation")

Part I

How does the air
come to pulse
like a muscle

As if your scent
before your arrival

How does the night
come to press
and smother

As if a fresh wound
must accompany
a revelation

Church bells ring
over a dark street
to fracture glass

Or was it a childhood
memory evoking
how light becomes distant

A fine, silvery mist
on a wall, a city

You reach me
by penetrating past
a train's smoke and whistle

Damp hair clings
to the nape
of your neck

How can the cause
for an absence
lose relevance

How many stories
do we deny
to obviate recitation

How do we pretend
no boats mutter
along the salted, wet dock

How did I give up
my child
for an imagined affair

A pine forest
breathes for me
behind an empty house

He looked happy
before meeting
a burglar's intimacy

You can reach me
by noticing how trees
shiver by the edge of a road

How a sun
flattens the water
of a grey canal

How does release
from what you love
become "unequivocal freedom"

Sunglasses hang
against her breastbone
from a silver chain

No limits surround
the purple sheen
to Montenegro lilies

why do you never
hold me

How do I find
the necessary vein
I must mine
Part II

How does one see
in brackets studding a wall

Or be claimed
through a stranger's

"I want to see you
again to know
I was not dreaming"

A church, a girl, a cloud,
a fragmented tune -- of what
are they coordinates

Children cluster
within a tree's branches
like birds, fruit, pollen

A shirt cuff
so white
it forms an independent image

It has never been
my desire for men
to take second place

I always wake
before the alarm clock
begins to irradiate

A man weeps tonight
with the father
of a schizophrenic son

How does one offend
by innocently asking
"Are you happy?"

In Zanzibar
fruit bats
fragment a room's dimness

Upon meeting, you
knew to suggest
"Alchemy needs your silence"

Wildflowers override
the trenches
of a battlefield

There are days when
the world's kindness
forgives pastis imbibed at zinc bars

A man blows a saxophone
until the moon
turns to butter

To approximate immortality
through the art
of doing nothing

Burying stories
I cannot reveal
within those I can

Her hair offers
the scent of firecrackers
reaching for the Milky Way

"Put it in
me now,"
she whispers

When he wants
to protect me
he holds my wrist

The air pulses
like a muscle
attentive and fraught

(Poet, fiction writer, editor, critic and publisher, Eileen Tabios is a grape farmer in St. Helena, Napa Valley, California.)

~ . ~

Barbara Tran

At night, I lie
close to my husband
hoping to camouflage myself
against his body
as if when he is dreaming
he might mistake me
for a cricket
on the blade
of his back.
Cricket and blade together
in the wind,
thin as a breath,
both rooted to the land.

I dream of being alone
in this field.

It has been years
since I have been able
to be with my husband
at his whim.
And now I carry
another wish--
the result of the banishment
of our children to their room.
Alone with me,
he has nothing
to say and so
must touch.
We will have seven
come this August.


~ .

The Secret Life of Trees
Barbara Tran

Why do they shed their leaves in an annual
toast to the shades of fire? How do they go
from Don't-look-back green to Whom-do-you-love
Is there an equivalent
warming within them, even as the wind gusts
and whistles through our sleeves,
rattles the trees' bare limbs?

Perhaps it's like love: a weary bird
alighting on a steady branch, the waking of a new
part of your body, the way birds know the difference
between the movement of man
and the stirring
of wind.

(Barbara Tran, co-editor of Watermark: Vietnamese American Prose & Poetry, is the recipient of the MacDowell Colony’s Freund Fellowship and the Pushcart Prize. Robert Wrigley selected her manuscript for the Tupelo Press chapbook contest, to be published in 2002.)

~ . ~ . ~