Caroline M. Mar – HerStories

Caroline M. Mar’s poetry is like a deep, flowing river with mysteries rippling just below the surface; fierce and swirling currents drive us towards new discoveries. Eddie Wong interviewed Carrie on December 18, 2019 about her writing process and the themes embedded in her reading for East Wind Ezine at the Eastside Cultural Center  last November. She read six poems that night and I’ve broken them into two videos.

EW: How did you become a writer?

CM: Somewhat unintentionally and somewhat intentionally. I always wrote these weird little books as a kid. A family friend and a colleague of my mom was a writer, Susan Ito, who invited me to read a poem I had written as a school assignment at a poetry reading. I think I was nine or 10 and being treated as a legitimate serious writer at that age was a pretty magical thing and I think I was kind of hooked from there. I didn’t take my writing super seriously until I was an undergrad. In my senior year, there was this poetry workshop that I had always wanted to take but was too scared to apply for and finally it was like, I’m going to graduate…I have nothing left to lose so I’m going to submit some poems and see if I get into it, and I did. I had an opportunity to work with Eleanor Wilner, an incredible poet and teacher, and from there it kept me connected with the work and I continue to do it.

EW:  What sort of things were you writing about?

CM: The poem I wrote as a kid was about the Japanese American internment. In the workshop in college, the main text we were reading that semester was Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so like, Greek myth and tragedy, but always I think my poetry has been a lot about identity. It’s something I think about a lot as a person and something I think about as a writer.

EW: Did you Journal as a young person?

CM: I did. I journaled a lot. There are many, many, many diaries sitting on my bookshelf. I journal less now probably because I’m writing in other ways, but yeah, I was sort of a compulsive journaler as an only child with big, big feelings, and yeah, I gotta tell somebody all this stuff and it sure is not going to be my mom and dad.

EW: It’s a really good tool. As a kid, I would journal and I would also ride the bus just to journal; it’s kind of an observational thing.

CM: Yeah, the bus, you see good things on the bus. I have a poem about all the good shit I saw on the bus one day.

EW: You mentioned that identity is a big issue for you. How do you describe your family background?

CM: Well the easiest way to describe me in terms of racial identity is the term Hapa, which is a little fraught and problematic in terms of whether it’s been appropriated from native Hawaiian folks. It’s a term I stopped using over the years, but I’m mixed-race Chinese and Irish. My father is ABC, American Born Chinese, born and raised in Chinatown San Francisco, and my mom’s family background is almost entirely Irish American going back several generations all the way back to Ireland. My mom and I are actually planning to go to Ireland next summer, a trip to the motherland.

So, growing up in San Francisco, a mixed-race Asian kid, going to Chinese immersion school, being around my father’s gigantic family, there were ways that I did and didn’t feel different. Like my childhood best friend was also mixed, also Chinese and Irish, and I had a cousin who was too. It both was and wasn’t a thing being from the Bay Area, but then when we would leave this place or go other places…  even now I get this… I was on a flight a month ago and some man  was like, “Where are you from? You look so exotic.” I was like please stop talking to me desperately looking around thinking does anyone else want to intervene here? He was a mess!

Race is always something I have thought about because of the way I look, because of the way I interacted with the two sides of my family, and because of the way I move through the world. And then as I became a teenager and came out as queer, identity started to play a different kind of role in how I thought about myself and how I wrote. So, queerness also comes out in a lot in my writing.

EW: Were both sets of your grandparents around when you grew up?

CM:  All four grandparents were super involved in the raising of me which was really a magical gift and also really an interesting cultural experience to get to go to those two households and experience those two different worlds.

EW: I know your father so I know how his identity is all a part of him and part of his work, but I don’t know your mother Susie’s side… what was it like?  Chinatown families can be suffocating.

CM: Everyone is yelling, there are too many people in the room, why do we talk so loud, yeah they’re a lot. My dad is one of ten kids so there were always hella people around. My mom, like me, was an only child, and those grandparents lived in the ‘burbs. They lived in Palo Alto, so it’s a journey out of the city to this big quiet house, just two grandparents. My father would describe them as lace curtain Irish, and his nickname for my grandmother was Miss Manners, so there was a lot of formal eating at the dinner table, lots of long discussions about intellectual subject matter. Both of my grandparents were PhDs. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the living room. I had this kind of intellectual life with them and with both of my parents, and on the Chinese side, dinner’s at 6 pm, dinner’s over at 6:30 pm, everyone’s talking over each other scarfing down food and then out. So, it was really kind of nice to have lots of cultural influences on my mind and worldview.

EW: What do you extract from those two “cultures”?

CM: I like that you put “culture” in those air quotes. I think it shows up in a couple of ways for me in terms of: What matters? To pay attention to writing, so books matter, to pay attention to discussion was really important. Big ideas, big things like thinking about what books I read. All of that matters. On another level, I also think everyday speech matters; I’m really interested in the vernacular and it comes up a lot in my poems. Increasingly I think not translating, not presuming a white or English-speaking reader – as in the work that I shared at the East Wind anniversary reading – matters. I’m thinking about whose stories are important what shows up and why. The education that I received from all four of my grandparents definitely comes into that.

 

EW: Tell me about your process. How much revising do you after you write?

CM: It really varies. I think there are some writers who have a very clear routine and structure to their days. I have accepted that I am not that person. Sometimes there is an idea and I need to jot it down and that’s what it is. A lot of times I’ve found that I won’t. I’m not going to just organically write, like if I have to do this laundry first, I’m like going to do the laundry and I’m not going to be thinking about a poem while I’m doing the laundry. I have to make sure I make space to sit down and write. I’ve found writing residencies are really helpful for taking me out of my regular life, or even just leaving the house to go to a café. I’m a high-school teacher and I cut back my schedule to be three days a week so that I’ll have those two days where I’ll build in more time for conversations like this, reading books, or sitting and staring out the window. All of that sort of feels like part of my writing process.

I usually have some idea of something I want to say, something that’s percolating, and then I tend to do what some people say is throat-clearing. I’ll usually start off writing about it in a form of a poem and eventually realize later, maybe not until stanza three or four or maybe not until the second page, that I’m really getting at what I’m trying  to say  and then I can usually  let go of that  earlier stuff. I tend to write stuff down and try not to mess with it in that first draft for at least a few weeks, maybe even longer, just because if I go back to it too soon, I don’t necessarily have enough distance from it to figure out what it’s missing or what it means or how  it needs to change.

Another thing that I’ve found is helpful to my writing practice is this thing called The Daily Grind, which was started by Ross White and Matt Olzmann, and it’s just an email accountability group – sometimes strangers or sometimes people you might know – and you just have to send something every day. There’s no feedback, I don’t even know if people are reading it. It’s just straight up you wrote something today. A lot of mine ends up going into the trash but sometimes, because I’m doing more consistent work, I might get something good and that turns into something I’m really excited about. Sections of “高祖父 : A Correspondence : 太爺,” which I read at the East Wind Ezine reading, at least one of those was a grind piece.

EW: It seems that you’ve taken these gigantic themes like exploring your Irish American history or your Chinese American history and leaped into it. Do you have a plan for these themes or is it just that in the process of investigation, it just leads you into it?

CM:  That’s an interesting point. I tend to get a little obsessive about something then I’ll write about it.  I mean I’m always obsessive about the big things like identity; I’ll always write about identity.  I’m always going to write about who I am in the world rubs up against what the world expects of me, but I do tend to fixate on a topic or two.

My book that’s coming out this Fall, Special Education, is an example of that. I had started teaching and it was really hard. I was trying to make sense of all the things I thought I knew and believed about race and class and ability and how that held up to the really hard work I was doing every day in the classroom with teenagers who are built to challenge everything I knew about the world.  A lot of poems came out of that struggle.

I was grappling a different obsession with the work that I’m doing now. I love Lake Tahoe. I go there a lot. My wife and I own a home there and I kept trying to write poems about Tahoe because it’s so beautiful. But they (my poems) were all really bad; they were all like oh look how pretty it is, it’s so pretty.  I feel so weird about being a homeowner, my class privilege what does it mean, and they were not ready yet, but I kept writing about it obsessing about it. And then I had to take the train from Tahoe back home once, and wrote a piece about having an ancestor who worked on the railroad and not really knowing much about him beyond that. I realized that those two things were actually having a conversation with each other, that my relationship with Lake Tahoe and that land also had a lot to do with my relationship to any land, had to do with the colonization of the United States and settler colonialism in the West, and it had to do with figuring out and learning more about the indigenous people of that land and the building of the railroad so I really got into that and I was writing about all of that.

Right now, I feel I’ve finished writing those poems and they’re sort of done and resting and sitting together and I’m sending them out places. I don’t know yet right now… I’m like, in a fallow period, so I’m working on a little nonfiction stuff and my next obsession hasn’t hit me yet so we’ll see what I get into it next.

EW: I’d love to hear more about your non-fiction stuff but let’s go back for a minute. You had sent me a poem about being a high-school teacher… the one about “bing bing.” Maybe you could talk about what that whole experience was about.

CM: That poem Chinese Girl, which was first published in storyscape and is in Special Education, started with a number of things. I had a student who would call Chinese people “bing bings,” like that was his term and I was like… you can’t. It was really funny but at the same time you can’t say that. The student happened to be African American, so I was trying to have these conversations about who uses racial slurs, who is allowed to use which ones, but he was like, “but that’s what y’all sound like when you talk” and I was like “No it’s not,” and internally, this is hilarious, I have to get this language into a poem because it’s so interesting.

And then that same year, my now father-in-law who was finding out about our upcoming marriage (and was not a fan) used a racial slur in an email to my wife and she was like what the fuck.  So I’m thinking about all these layers: about where is the disrespect or the hate coming from, how do I interpret it differently when it is coming from the mouth of a teenager who finds it amusing versus an email from my  father-in-law who is just a homophobe and a bigot.

Sorting it out in that poem, there’s also a kid asking me about my dating history. When she found out about my dating history… the student who was asking me was also queer and also African American… she was disappointed that I hadn’t dated a black woman and what did that mean to her that most of my partners had been white. She knew that I wasn’t white so thinking about all those layers of how does white supremacy show up in us, in our relationships, all that… that’s a lot to put into a poem! So, my strategy was maybe you start out with a funny racial slur, I don’t know (laughs). (editor’s note: see the poem Chinese Girl at the end of the article.”)

EW: You teach health education so that lends itself to exploring different things.

CM: I started out as a special educator in self-contained special day classes, which meant that all the kids in the room had learning differences. I was teaching all different kinds of subjects, mostly social studies but also health. Then San Francisco Unified figured out that this was not the best way to educate kids, that we needed to be integrating them more. I was doing a lot of important work around inclusion and co-teaching and being in the General Ed more. I had the opportunity to get my health credential and I’m no longer a special educator. I think being a health educator is great because if there is a class where you want to be able to talk mostly about identity and queerness and intersectionality and answer every weird question that a 14- year old has, health education is the place to do it.

EW: Since we’re on the issue of identity and sexuality, I love how you state that you want to queer Asian American history and that comes very naturally in “高祖父 : A Correspondence : 太爺”? because it’s about intimacy and loneliness…

CM: I think that’s something I’ve been looking at for a long time, and it’s not to say that it doesn’t exist or that there aren’t artists who have been tackling this before me. I think that it’s always been fascinating to me, even as a kid, learning about the so-called bachelor society – all of these men coming from China working in the gold mine, in the laundry, or on the railroad and being forcibly separated from their families, not being able to return for a long time and not having an option to bring families here and some of them living the majority of their adult lives primarily in the company of other men. Like, no one’s going to talk about the potential for queerness there? And again, not really nobody, I’m in the middle of reading Contagious Divides by Nayan Shah about health and the ways that the early Chinese immigrants and Chinese American community were seen as unhealthy and dangerous and full of disease. Shah talks about the way there’s always been a queering of white American heteronormativity by the Chinese community, but that was not most of the narrative that I got, certainly not in my earlier education.

So, no one’s going to say that any of these dudes were gay? I’m sure they were because some of everybody is gay, but specifically that was never talked about. The Chinese American community has resisted – often rightfully – the emasculation of Asian and Chinese American men because they were doing so-called domestic work as house boys or laundry workers or cooks. And that emasculation was problematic, and an example of toxic masculinity, but also meant not embracing the ways that maybe we don’t believe in gender in the same way that these white people believe in gender. And our own patriarchy is so deeply rooted in our culture. That same toxic masculinity in a Chinese Confucian structure is super real so questioning that there was possibility for queerness there, I was like yeah, I want that.

I have these two ancestors who were in California during roughly the same time. They weren’t related to each other, but what if they knew each other, what if they were lovers? There are all these questions about whether queerness is inherited and all this sciency or not-sciency stuff that we don’t have to get into, but I think wondering about that… yes, I want that queer history for all of us. I want that queer history for myself and I also want a narrative about my ancestors that is not just another probably somewhat violent, extremely hateful of women by dismissive patriarchal Chinese men who think that only having boy children matters narrative, because that’s not the ancestor I’m interested in. That long poem “高祖父 : A Correspondence : 太爺” came out of that curiosity and that desire combined with questions about the railroad combined with my low-key obsession with Lake Tahoe, so like… all of those things (chuckles).

Caroline M. Mar at home. Photo by Eddie Wong

EW: Let’s see back to some of the poems and the use of everyday language like “the shore of his lip” [in “Guest: Second Translation”]. It’s everyday language and then it shifts into this magical turn of phrase. How did that come to you?

CM:  I think through effort. In the drafting process, part of the way my brain works is super everyday language, narrative speech like blah blah blah blah blah, this is how I would say it and this is how I would write it down. Then there is this other part of my brain that is interested in sound, so it will sort of go with what sounds nice, not try to script the narrative too much and let what comes up organically come up.

And then it is in that revision process where that line that you referred to in “Guest: Second Translation” where it is “the shore of his lip, a silver bridge flashing.” I think Initially I had the silver bridge flashing because I had mentioned this character’s orthodontia and his dental work. I had the bridge and I think it’s an interesting detail about a person, but the language really isn’t beautiful yet. It’s a deliberate choice as a poet to say how can I make this metaphorical, how can I say what else a bridge is besides a piece of dental work. A bridge is a thing over water and water has a shore so in this case his mouth would be the shore. It’s my poet brain coming in and saying, you need to make this move here to make it more interesting to the reader, and I guess in your case it worked so I feel good about that.

EW: And it’s also the bridge as in a human connection and that’s why I love poetry. It’s using the words to trigger all these other connections in your head and that’s why I love your poetry. In the “S—- Valley” poem, the shifts in it are just incredible and the issue of the personal history and the historical setting really become united through the theme of violence. How did you arrive at that?

CM: That was a poem where I came to it with an idea sort of started and it took a couple of tries to get there, but I knew I wanted to talk about the naming of this place. It’s the famous ski resort in Olympic Valley. No one would think it would be acceptable to go skiing at a place called Chinaman Valley; people would know you just don’t do that and there’s been a lot of work done to correct the name of places and there are a lot of places in this country with problematic names with all kinds of ethnic slurs. That ski resort has been called out on it and refused to change the name because it’s so famous. They’re actively resisting respecting the native and Indigenous people who live there.

The word squaw is a pejorative for Native American women. There are various debates and different theories about the etymology of the word and how pejorative it is – for some people it’s only a little and for other people it’s from a term for genitalia and thus super disrespectful – but the consensus is that it is disrespectful and that is just a matter of degrees. If I’m thinking about a term that is both racialized and gendered, and if I think about how women of color, particularly indigenous women, experienced past violence or experience life today in the US, then violence has to be part of the conversation. Violence has always been part of that interaction, so that’s why there is violence in the poem and some of the examples are about white boys I went to high school with who got into ski accidents or drunk driving accidents. They’re constantly hurting themselves because they live recklessly, but white men are also constantly hurting other people with their recklessness.

I think I was writing it around the time of the Kavanaugh hearings and so that refusal to take responsibility for any of that wreckage on the part of white men, all of what was happening around me and what I was thinking about came in to writing the poem. I also wanted to do my poetic part in whatever way to correct the historical record and to find the real name of this place. I was lucky enough to meet with people in the Washoe tribe and the Washoe Cultural Resources Advisory Council who worked with me to try to figure out some possible names for the place, but unfortunately a lot of names for places have been lost because of that rampant march of violent colonialism.

EW: Does this kind of research lead into your nonfiction work?

CM: My nonfiction work is pretty limited so far and I would say is less researched. I have one essay coming out soon and it’s a prose piece, a sort of a lyric essay. I don’t know if it’s entirely the truth – I don’t even know what that means – but like my poetry, it’s what am I thinking about, what’s going on in my life, what are questions I’m grappling with and there are some stories that I just can’t tell in the form of a poem so I’ve tried to work on them in prose but generally so far when I’m writing prose I have a much harder time being concise. I have a harder time trying to contain everything so most of my nonfiction work right now is these long, sprawling things that make me say, “I’ll come back to you later.” (laughs)

EW: Well, keep at it. Do you read people like Rebecca Solnit? Who do you like to read?

CM: It’s interesting that you mention research. This new work that I’m doing with the Tahoe and Chinese railroad laborer project required research in a way that I had never had to do before so I read Solnit’s Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West.  I read a whole lot of different books about Lake Tahoe. I read Jean Pfaelzer’s Driven Out about the violent wars against Chinese settlement in the American West. I’m reading Shah’s Contagious Divides.

In my first book, Special Education, it was a matter of this is how I feel being in this classroom, this is what I’m observing other people saying. Other things were influencing me like the media, popular culture, music and things I was reading as a teacher, but I wasn’t intentionally having to go find out how deep is Lake Tahoe, what’s its surface area, how many people a year drown here. That’s a different kind of work and it has been very interesting for me.

Other writers whom I love …when I think about nonfiction, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays… I read that book with my writing collective; it’s one of the ones that sort of blthe top of my head off. It’s gorgeous; it’s incredible.

EW: I love the rhythm in the scatting with the word “blue” in that poem [高祖父 : A Correspondence : 太爺].

CM: That section of the poem was actually a Grind piece. In the later sections of that poem where I write about the color gold – “gold the eye the tongue the lion” – that was my poetic impulse toward sound. What sounds interesting with “gold,” what moves fast, how can I get all this out on the page? With the color blue I felt I needed a similar approach to be a counterpoint to that part about the gold that comes later. I also wrote free associatively. When I think about blue, what comes up next so there’s everything from dye to pornography to the Marines that came up. I wrote it out as one big chunk of text, definitely revised it a few times because I really don’t like this image or I don’t like the sound of that word, but I was definitely going intentionally for that kind of rush and improvisational feel.

Caroline M. Mar reads at the Eastside Cultural Center for East Wind Ezine on Nov. 15, 2019. Photo by Eddie Wong

EW: Tell me about the visual poetry in “Catalogue of Writings Left by Chinese Railroad Laborers of the C.P.R.R.”

CM: Another book that was hugely influential in my research was Gordon Chang’s Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, and Gordon was good enough to sit down and have a conversation with me before his book came out. I also got to hear him talk at a conference where he and another scholar were talking about both Chinese and Irish railroad laborers. We know that firsthand primary sources have yet to be found in the words of a Chinese railroad laborer. We have payroll records with signatures on them and little bits of writing in Chinese, this amount is paid and signed off by so-and-so, and we also have records that indicate the railroad was ordering paper and ink brushes along with rice, food, and other things. People were writing; it’s not like the white workers were painting with brushes. There was a system of primary education in China at the time. Maybe not everyone was literate, but at least some of them, maybe the majority of them were literate, but nothing has been found. Not one thing and I think that has to do with the factors that I had mentioned at the reading: the number of Chinatowns that were deliberately burnt down, how migratory workers of the time were fleeing violence or trying to establish a better life.

Even families who held on to letters that were sent [back to China] – there were a famines; there were wars. And after World War II, there’s the Communist revolution and then there’s the Cultural Revolution. If you probably still had something from an ancestor who had gone west that’s a tie to the United States. That’s probably not something you want to keep in your house. We know that they were writing. I think that poem is just me trying to wrap my mind around the fact that there was or could have been a literary legacy and writings I want to make visible. There are no titles so I just put empty brackets and I made them different sizes. Some might have written longer things, some might have written shorter things, so that’s how that poem ended up being what it is.

EW: Maybe we’ll end by talking about the poet’s voice today. What do you think is the poet’s contribution and is there a role of poetry in this kind of madness that we’re in right now?

CM: Absolutely, and I am not the first to say this. I think about Audre Lorde’s Poetry is Not a Luxury. Poetry sometimes gets seen as this thing that is dead or static or in the past, but in this particular moment, there are so many amazing people right now writing so much amazing poetry. My pile of books to read keeps growing – I’m like, don’t buy any more! – but I’m really excited about the amazing things happening in contemporary poetry. I think people are using all kinds of forms and voices to talk about what’s happening in their lives, whether or not those lives are represented in the dominant culture or the mainstream.

Anytime that there is chaos or political oppression I think artists, poets included, are a big part of speaking out, trying to make sure that people care about and connect with trying to have some kind of say. I’m not one of those people who thinks me sitting in my room writing lovely things about how fucked up the world is – which is a lot of what I write about – is enough or is the only way that I show up in the world. I think there are lots of ways that all of us need to show up and get uncomfortable and do different kinds of work. One part of that is being an educator and another part of that is being a poet and an artist and having these conversations. Another part is physically showing up at demonstrations and another part is financially supporting causes and organizations when I can so there are all kinds of different ways that people can show up and do this kind of work and I think art absolutely has to be one of them.

EW:   When you’re reading Neruda today, you just want to say thank God he wrote or how else would we know how people were feeling. From love songs to political stuff, it’s all so inspiring. How do you get people excited about poetry and who do you recommend they read?

CM: There are so many people I always have a hard time with this question.

EW: I want you think about it land just send it to me later.

CM: I think Vievee Francis is a poet who I’m really inspired by and appreciate… Let me send you a list.

Editor’s note:  Caroline M. Mar emailed the following:

There are so many books I love, and even more I haven’t read yet, and this is an impossible question. But… Lucille Clifton is a poet I can return to again and again. Eve Ewing and Camille Dungy have each really enthralled me recently. I love reading Matthew Olzmann as someone else who does ordinary and vernacular in ways that surprise and turn for me.

If you think my non-translation stuff is interesting, Kenji C. Liu’s Monsters I Have Been totally flabbergasted me this past summer – I was blown away by the ways he figures and reconfigures language. Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here, which came out last year, and Francine Conley’s What Sweetness from Salt, just released this fall, were both beautiful recent reads. I’m friends with those last two, and lucky to be so, and Francine is in Rabble Collective with me so I’m always extra thrilled to tell people about her work.

Poems by Caroline M. Mar.  Chinese Girl was originally published in  Storyscape Journal.  Here’s the link to it: http://storyscapejournal.com/Issue19/chinese-girl-by-caroline-m-mar.html

Chinese Girl

 Bing bing. In the mouths of my Black students

  my ethnicity is the sound of an elevator rising

  past the floors of some anonymous downtown building

  they will never set foot in. Our security guard,

  also Black, uses Chinaman instead,

  which I’m busily un-teaching

  alongside the elevator’s ring.

  My aunt was a teacher, too, called her boys

  hak guai, as my grandmother called my mother

  bok guai. Devils of two colors, but devils

  nonetheless. And I was simply quai.

  No Chinese family praises

  too much its favored child, old fear

  of covetous demons. My students now,

  likewise naughty, troublesome, trembling

  not with fear but laughter

  at racial terms thrown about our room.

  To them I am something else entirely—

  a teacher by any other name

  is still fucking white-acting.

  My kids want to know what kinds of women

  I have loved. If I’ve ever dated

  a Black woman. They don’t know the word butch,

  but they know stud.

  I suppose I could tell them about the woman

  I wanted to go home with, spring break

  in Jamaica, the fear afterward.

  The young men hosting me imagining

  I had talked to another boy

  (apparently, they didn’t know the words

  butch or stud). And considering the way,

  the night before, the brother of my assigned fling

  flashed me the gun he packed

  into his waistband, nothing like

  the strapped-on packages I’d wanted to touch

  on butches and bois back at school

  who thought I was too straight-looking, I knew

  if they found out the truth we might get hurt, really hurt

  by these boys who called me Chinese Girl.

  But on second thought

  flings and bars probably aren’t what I should disclose

  to my kids. Happy marriage. Safely gay.

  When the driver’s buddy in our Beijing black car

  started asking me, tong zhi, tong zhi? I didn’t know

  where we were, or what time it was, so I gave my girlfriend

  a look that said silent, and I said, ting bu dong,

  ting bu dong, no, I do not understand you. Waiting

  for the safe escape into the hotel’s glass doors

  and swift, silent elevator up to a quiet room

  that held one double bed. Not telling them

  about spending years as the sweet roommate

  to my future wife, chatting politely about the Virgin Mary

  or the patience of being a Special Educator

  with my future father-in-law, who tells me

  I’ve been watching this minister on TV, last name Kim,

  I think he is Asian, and Do you know him?

  The way that closet collapsed, and suddenly

  we were both on an express elevator to hell,

  e-mails full of hate and anger, and me

  no longer anything even human to him.

  Everyone wondering how he could have missed it,

  his butch daughter who for years

  never brought anyone but a woman home,

  his deluded hope that I might wield

  a feminizing influence, before I became nothing

  but race, sex, sin.

  It’s a pretty good day, if the kids are just asking

  what kinds of women I’ve loved.

  They just want to know who it is

  I really am. What shape my name should take

  in their mouths. When I finally get home

  I will look my wife in her eyes unlike mine,

  and will wonder but will not ask,

  When you look at me, what do you see?

**

an excerpt from

高祖父 :

A Correspondence

: 太爺

Blue the basin the basket the berry the juice blue that counters the yellow of bleach bluing blue

indigo blue dye #4 blue the bruise the bitter blue anything but an eye please blue the water the wash the vein in my body the vein in my earth our earth the sapphire blue the glittering dark sky at night sky at day sky at blue note sounding blue the print the plan the next step into blue the brazen the bold the navy the few the proud who wants that blues sing it again sister bluer than blue my blue blood true blood tv fantasy blue light blue screen blue movie blue balls blue butch blue black battered and beaten or blue like a piece of glass with the sun shining through it blue as a shard a shatter a splatter of water blue blur that won’t leave me don’t sparkle for just anything don’t break

 

Interview by Eddie Wong, the editor/publisher of East Wind Ezine.

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