Exit through the Bounce House

The city of flowers is gone; the flowers died

an unnatural death; the houses quiver from

the chill of their ghost inhabitants, who were

all the fathers, mothers, and children

we’ve ever known. Yes, we too used to live there,

a truth we remind ourselves often,

where horses carry silver carriages,

(for how else do our princesses travel?)

clip-clopping beside metallic boxes with pipes

that let out gas and stifle the flowers

(for how else does a city like this die?);

where kids like us had a slide and a tunnel

and a bounce house built like a basket case.

The game is simple: you get in to get out to

get in all over again, and there’s no stopping.

From the birth of dawn to the cloak of dusk,

from one confused generation to the next,

we enter and exit; we sweat and fall and swipe

the dirt on our feet, the red kind of clay that sticks

to your heels like glue; we kick and holler and feel

the ragged thirst in our throats, the animal that pinched

at our skins, at a time when there is no loss,

at a place that keeps going, and the one who survives

gets to die again. Life repeats until you stoop

to listen to the faint exhales from beneath

the crumpled skin of a tree, peel it off,

watch the brittle layers crack and fall,

hear the words of the phantoms there inhabit:

Here you are again, children of the city of flowers,

all grown up now playing the same game

you can’t get out of.


[Photo by Alice]

Nocturne

“The Owner of the Night

interrogates whoever walks

this shadow-lane, this hour

not reserved for you: who

are you to enter it?”

—Mark Doty

Nocturne

Brandon Clyde is the guardian of dreams because his mother told him so, many years ago when he was small enough to fit in her arms. Back then, curled up in a fetal position against her thick body, he could feel the sag of her skin under his tiny palm, the warmth of her breath over his silky hair, her presence healing him from his nightmares where the dragons ate away his heart. He didn’t understand who the guardian of dreams was or what he was supposed to do.

“Well, you protect everyone from having nightmares,” his mother said.

“But mom, who will protect me?”

She held his face and looked at him, her cold fingers wiping away his sweat.

“You will.” She looked at him and his face was imprinted in her pale iris. He didn’t know what she meant, but he thought of it as being a hero and all was simple.

“I’ll protect you, too.” He mumbled and drifted off to sleep.


Around the corner of Claude Ave and Vincent St, barely visible from Brandon Clyde’s window, his nightingale stood glaring up at the night sky while in front of her, key chains, metal figurines, silk hats, glossy postcards made up the light of the world. Raven needed a little black dress, like the one she had at home. She always wanted to wear a little black dress at her first solo performance, so that her pale skin glowed and her eyes sparkled like the stars. She would also like lacy stockings and jewel-clad heels. If Rite Aid didn’t have what she wanted she would ask Ashton from the souvenir shop, or Kelsey who cut her hair once, or anyone she met on that night because surely someone must have a little black dress.

The sky was cloudless, the street sodden, and a single column of smoke rose from a gray-washed house slowly falling to pieces. The guardian of dreams was awake as always. Under the stars, he put on his night cloak, fastened his silver helmet, and off he went into his kingdom. He started walking towards Mr. Abbott’s little purple house, past Mrs. Hamilton’s withered garden, past Ashton’s souvenir shop with rock tees and art pins, nearing the corner of Claude Ave and Vincent St, running and pausing to hear his heartbeats in the stillness of the night.

Just as he was turning the corner, he saw a girl looking up at the sky. He did the same and saw a sky glimmering with infinity, tiny specks of luster that were then the background of the cityscape but soon would outlive and outshine humanity. A light breeze blew the coffee cups, the beer cans, the foam plates from all over the narrow street to a joyful dance, and when they looked down their eyes met. She was the one he’d been looking for—the night had kept her for him indeed. Her eyes reminded him of someone, a ghost of some place he used to be in, now a forbidden territory. Raven looked away and turned to Ashton, whose eyelids were dropping.

“Do you have a black dress?”

“A dress? Sorry, we don’t sell dresses.”

She walked up to Brandon. “Hey,” she said casually, “do you happen to know someone who has a black dress I could borrow?”

He thought about this. “Actually, I do.” He said and she smiled at him.

Continue reading “Nocturne”

Threadbare

My father’s death was what Mr. Vu would call an untimely death. If, at some point during the uneventful fifty years of his life, my father had ever ventured a wild guess at the manner of his death, he would have conjectured a death by diabetes, kidney failure, or an equivalent of “dying of old age”. He did not expect to be surprised; he believed that death would come at the end of life, after he finished his doctor degree ten years into marriage, after he took mom to Venice, after he pulled out the trash and took our clothes off the drying rack and removed the Christmas wreath from our front door. That was what he thought, but he was wrong because death did not wait until the end of anything. Death banged the door open, grabbed his collar and squeezed his heart in Death’s iron fist, and in a minute he was out of breath. When Romeo looks at Juliet on her deathbed he exclaims: “Death lies on her like an untimely frost/ Upon the sweetest flower of all the field”. When my father lay contorted on the floor he did look quite stiff, as if frosted in that moment of pain and utter bewilderment, even though his bereft features were anything but blossoming flowers.

My father was never a good-looking man. He was short and heavy, his face singularly flat except for his gargantuan nose. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t handsome anyhow, in Vietnam it is more desirable to have “a kind and virtuous complexion”. Whether a person has such complexion is to be determined by respectable elders, who would remark that big noses belong to honest men, full cheeks indicate integrity, wide smiles were sign of cordiality and kindness. Regardless of the validity of these “indicators”, I know that my father was a good man. He was a good man when he asked mother to marry him for the fourth time, because every time she rejected him he knew she made a mistake. He was a good man when he sold his business to buy us a house when I was born, when mom told him to go to hell and he replied he loved her. He was a brilliant cook with a keen sense of smell: his gigantic nose could pick up the scent of jasmine tea a meter away from a tea bag. He opened the windows every morning, and for the rest of the day the house smelled of fresh warm breeze. We were struggling, me and mother, but he never did.

Continue reading “Threadbare”

A Murderer’s Afternoon

Dusk was breaking. As the sun fell very slowly, its red light dripped on my hand, soaking my dirty fingernails with its brilliant crimson. I hid my hands in my bulging pocket, dispirited by the absence of nocturnal songsters. The light swept across the murky water, leaving stains upon the fish and their wicked
murmurs, the algae and their infinitesimal lake.pnglives, the broken branch and its dry corpse—closer and closer each time I looked, its emaciated arms punctured and askew. The sun sunk gradually, obliviously, and the water absorbed the crimson light that was the sun’s lifeblood.

Fleeting darkness took over, cloaking the blood under its curtain. By the river, I could see nothing but my own image, staring back at me from the motionless water. My crooked nose, cracked, busted lips, eyes like an animal’s, ghostly pale skin that was once green with envy, red with anger, purple with hatred. A blink of an eye, and it was me no more. A phantom with a bloody third eye stared back at me, a dead soul—perhaps that of the blood drained sun or of the amputated tree. We were both silent. The words were stuck in my throat, their blades cutting into my veins. Or perhaps his silence muffled me. I slashed my hand across the water and he vanished, just like a vapor, as if he was but a figment of imagination. How I wish that was what he was. That was when I left the side of the river, my throat burning with thirst. 

A Snippet of a Forgettable Life

2017-01-11 08.02.34 1.jpgThere’s nothing like walking down the streets of San Francisco, on a cold morning, when the sodden clouds cluster just enough to shade the sad lives curled up in street corners, which they themselves want to forget. Said walk can be of any kind, but most preferably the most routine of walks: embarrassing slippers in a large overcoat, a normal-looking beverage, somewhere to go to or not, because the point is really not to go to that place, but to look up at any given instant and see something that takes your breath away. I’m talking about the glorious lives painted on the walls, walls that sweep across space and time and suddenly disappear around the corner. On the side of a grocery store, which could have been your somewhere to go, soldiers march in grand golden armors, heads held high lest they look back; sprawling on the window edges, buoyed midair and trapped in the second dimension, kids throw their heads back laughing, man plays the piano to a muted melody, too immersed to notice a fissure across his face where the brick has fallen off, tragically landing on a trashcan filled with Chinese take-outs. A narrow alley way past the grocery store—because you always forget where you intended to go—opens up the closed door of a household, in which a woman prays with her eyes close, while next to her her husband opens his shirt. It is sheer magnificence, these lives that haven’t been lived yet render unforgettable, like a woman’s first time, detached and singled out from the rest of the life lived like a debt.

I have always believed that the instant right after I died, the world would forget about me. Just as I would about them an instant before. It is easy to forget I am living, and much harder to forget the small triflings: the color of dad’s bow tie; heavy beads of rain on my face; smoky breaths on cold mornings—mornings that wrap me in a blanket, gently pick me up with a kiss on my cold forehead, and lay me down on the windowsill so I can watch the ghosts of the sleepwalkers, drowsy in the daylight, and hold my breath. Leaning on the window pane, I feel the coldness gripping my ears like an old friend whispering a secret; the vast, open landscape that used to burst with tiny daffodils, stretches in front of me like a life I could be living. I have always wanted to jump out of the window. Not because I want to die, no—it is a ground floor window—all I want is to feel enough freedom just to open the window, squeeze myself out, and run across the open field in my embarrassing slippers and overcoat. I have lived that dream many times. Once I run down that endless field and see a man who picks me up and spins me round and round, until my world whirls like a storm and he fades into the daylight. Once I run my fingers through the wetness of the grass and see a sky full of butterflies, iridescent, each one the size of clasped hands.

And I remember a time much earlier, feeling the butterflies spinning, not only in my head but in my stomach. That was the first time I stepped on an escalator. My dad said he was not one to hush, as long as I promised to eventually set foot on the goddamn step, so I took a full five minutes just watching people descending out of sight. The first man that walked past us wore a strangled expression, probably smothered by his gargantuan beard, his worn-out oxford descending on the step anxiously—not one to learn from. The woman that followed had gold dripping down her shoulders—at least that was my ten-year-old impression of her—and her pointy heel precariously touched the very edge of the step, so close in fact that she began to scream but stopped herself. The various people afterwards slipped out of my mind, or perhaps from my conscious mind to my subconscious, because of the unreal ease with which they gave themselves to the rolling monster (I have a talent for confusing reality with dreams). In fact, even though the feeling is as palpable now as it was six years ago, the image of actual me walking down the escalator is a blur. I dream about it differently each time. Sometimes I see me stepping tentatively right close to the railing, sometimes boldly pushing another passenger aside, sometimes even wearing my embarrassing slippers.

On Nipples

male-nipple

As a female, I find nipples funny looking, more than anything else. A bit out of place, really. That is of course because I look at them, mine, every day, and my continuous observance gradually wears out whatever sexual impression they once had on me (the first time I pondered their sight was when I learned what they meant to the other sex, and of course I don’t remember when that was—I absorbed the information unconsciously, which should give you a clue about what our society is doing to young girls); and because they are mine I am entitled to touch them—to whatever I want to do with them indeed, say to cut them off. Now if that doesn’t hurt I might seriously consider the amputation, so that people would stop censoring that part of my body if I choose to expose it. The whole point of censorship is, of course, that nipples arouse men—they are these mysterious little softies that crown their accompanying hilltops, that are always blackened out, forbidden under those strips of black duct tape on top of the other in the shape of a cross.

AS IF MEN DON’T ALREADY KNOW HOW A NIPPLE LOOKS LIKE.

Our nipples don’t have horns, they don’t talk or make poetry, they don’t turn funny colors when we change our mood. Female nipples are no mystery—they look exactly the same as their male counterparts. There is no difference in a woman showing her nipples and a man showing his nipples. Yet, women are supposed to keep our nips hidden, and it does not matter if we’re breastfeeding or raising awareness of breast cancer prevention, because women nipples are seen as sexual accessories. Female nips are more sexually objectified- well, because our bodies are more sexually objectified. Anti-nipples policies are there to accommodate men’s inability to contain their sexual arousal, which is not to say it is men’s fault because unfortunately it is the way things are that frames this mindset. Nipples are mysterious, forbidden, suggestive of imminent sex. The prohibitive censorship and laws heighten the hype, making the awkward protrusions more and more appealing.

Perhaps, if we start freeing female nipples they would cease to seen as forbidden, and with it the nonsensical rave and the objectification would vanish. And it matters. It matters because there is no gender equality without nipple equality, because nipple equality is not just about women complaining about wearing bras, but about women standing up against the sexual objectification of our bodies.

The way we see nipples is the ultimate double-standard. It is not right that women do not get to take off their shirt, say to feel more comfortable in hot weather, because of some perverts who would assume she wants attention. Women can’t even go braless without getting unwanted attention, let alone topless.

Now that it has been mentioned, let’s talk about bras. Women wear bras for many different reasons: to prevent them from sagging (a myth according to Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon in a quite interestingly counterintuitive study), to shape them into social standards of attractive boobs (huge, yet firm), to keep them from having too much fun while their owner goes for a run. Yet, the number one reason why women are unwilling to take them their bras is the attention. Bras are not good for us, mentally and physically. Studies have shown they cause back pain and muscle dependence, which in turns cause our breast to sag (also by this guy Rouillon—such a hero). Women are suffering this risk among many others because somehow it is our fault, somehow if we dress a certain way it is automatically assumed that we want the attention.

Free the nipple. Stop seeing our bodies as sexual instruments—see them as the beautiful creations that they are. Now that you have successfully finished reading my long-ass rant, here is a female nipple: thank you for appreciating its beauty.

female-nip

Image source here

How It Feels Being a Skeptic

You’re really just sitting there doing nothing, except that your mind won’t let you alone and once it gets its way nothing stays the same. Everything starts to go wrong, and even though you’re just sitting there you see your whole world collapses as the intoxicating thoughts kick in, doubting everything there is to doubt. On the train you have anxiety every single minute thinking that you’re going inbound instead of outbound, and when you get off you start to doubt if indeed you’re supposed to go outbound in the first place, because after a year of everyday commute you still can’t trust yourself. Skeptics like you love to learn, because knowing makes you feel at peace. That is, if you really know peace, because what if your peace is an illusion from what is really self-indulgence, pleasure that is temporary and eventually dies out; what if all that you do and everything that you are is a phase and that they were right; what if you love just to make you feel better about yourself; what if that is the way he loves you? You would suddenly realize something, which you would always always regret realizing, that when you look yourself in the eye you see nothing. You don’t see who you are looking into the mirror because that is something you haven’t found, because every time you try to find it you find another reason to give up. You see all these doubts instead and nothing that you know, because perhaps that nothing is how much you really know. You’ll find out that you’re actually okay with not knowing, it’s all the lies that you’re sick of. Political propaganda, congratulations, advertisements, “Everything will be okay”s,… these things that keep telling you you must not believe, as if you don’t already have that problem. And then comes religion. You find religious disciples the most annoying creatures because they can believe, because deep down you envy that ability. They have life easy. Their life follows a pattern that they know, they have reasons for everything that happens and it’s enough that it’s true for them because reality is a relative concept. A skeptic like you can’t have it that way because you assign meaning to things and you strive to explain life your way, and it’s hard. It’s hard figuring things out on your own because you can’t trust anyone else to. It’s hard because more often than not you don’t have an answer. It sure is hard, but believe me one last time when I say that in the end you’ll have it best. Believe, skeptic though you are, that all this thinking amounts to something significant, something that doesn’t have to be an answer. A cynic like you sees the world as the mess that it is, a multifaceted reality, a dark, bottomless hole squirming with hands groping blindly for answers. You see the truth of the future, the only truth: we can see it-our future-right ahead of us, through the immaculate lucidity of our vision-a vast, radiant, impenetrable blankness. Nothing is known in its entirety; all is bound in transcendental complexities, entangled in both the good and the bad. You see the sinful in the luminescent, the benevolent in the perverse. All expectation is nonsense, as is all devotion in any truth, any zealous faith. Don’t long for simplicity or faith, for these are things meant to be shattered. We tire ourselves because reality bothers us, as it’s supposed to, and we keep on grinding our beliefs because we are strong enough to face what we see, and wise enough to know what lies beyond. We refuse to believe what’s given because we choose to transcend it, because the world is worth doubting and we are meant to amend its crooked, shadowed facets. Believe, skeptic though you are, that one day there will be a truth, concrete and simple, sweeping and transparent, that has its proud history in you.

December 2016

  1.  You know what is the biggest lie? Death. Everything that has been said about death is a lie, everyone who claims they feel dead is lying, because no one really knows what death feels like. They don’t know what comes after it nor precisely what comes before, those who didn’t know why they lived certainly didn’t have a clue why they died or how neither their life nor death mattered. Death is overrated. It’s not pain, not regret, not gratitude, not release, not heaven, not hell, not a sleep, not a plague; death is the end of all of these things. Death is the end of you.

-Such an impolite kid!

-Why am I impolite?

-You talk back to your mother

-If asking a question is impolite, everyone who is nice is stupid.

3.  Insecurity is a goddamn cycle. Remember that thing you read on Tumblr about how you have to love yourself before anyone else could? That’s bullshit, written by people who were born and raised confident, who know nothing about what self-worth is to someone who doesn’t even trust or even listen to what she herself has to say. How do you tell an insecure person—who speaks quietly, deaf inside to her own voice, whose own breath sounds too loud and whose limbs seem so redundant they might as well be someone else’s, whose own presence bothers her to the point that she is in denial all her life—how do you tell this person to love herself? She would begin to love herself if ever love began with doubt and isolation, of and from her own body, a detachment from a Self lost somewhere along the way. She would begin to love herself if only she could convince herself that love starts from the heart and not the eyes. Every time she tries the cycle repeats itself all over again.

4. I wonder if our society would someday evolve into a community so tolerant each individual has their own faith, if one defines faith as a belief system founded without proof that does not have to be systemic. The word religion carries with it not only the faith itself but congregation, mass worship, religious centers and rituals that build upon a tradition that has a sense of community at heart. Within this concept the faith itself would echo on the walls of the churches and mosques, with the rhythm of the prayers radiate inwards into the hearts of each. Without this congregational element, faith is just faith, a set of belief one simply believes in, a passionate, unproven conviction that is self-sustained and thrives on the hopes and will power of the believer. If faith is individualized, tolerance would actually become unnecessary, because then there would be no majority and no minority, therefore no norms and no outcasts. Think about the notion of discrimination as it is today: LGBTQA are discriminated because they are seen as abnormal and against the “natural law”. Individualized faith would rub tolerance in the face of discriminators, and make it the natural law because it is different for each person, not each group of persons. Anyway, the reason I’m babbling about this is that I believe many of us already practice such system, quite unconsciously, in the form of cultural norms for instance. My mom always believes that if we do good deeds to others, in times of need there will always be someone good enough to help out. Not only is such belief unproven, it also cannot be proved. But so what? It is her sense of purpose, the principle that guides her every action; there is nothing and no one that could ever convince her otherwise. She believes it with such fervor and sincerity that she internalizes it to a much deeper level than all of the Buddhist teachings and prayers she has mumbled all her life. I find it amazing also how such belief drives her to find means to justify it, to protect it with all her heart no matter what life tells her. When her good deeds seem unrequited she would say “Oh but we just have to be patient, and the good would come later, for sure!”. Believe something for so long and you would want to believe in it, and you no more care if it is actually true, because it’s comforting that way. Believe me too when I say that there is no need for truth in such case, while there is greater need for privacy and respect. Why shatters others’ reality when you yourself wants to hold on to yours, so badly in fact, that you go attacking others’ to convince yourself of that relative truth in yours, that you long for?

5. Tumbled across something I wrote 4 months ago: “Sometimes I get so angry at myself for not getting mad at people who deserve it. Instead I just get really sad…”. 4-month-older attempt at explaining: I get really sad because I keep blaming it on myself, for being the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for all the wrong reasons.

Our Way Out

In a way the child slapped the nanny

out of the house. No wonder

there wasn’t a trace of her, not a single

sweaty footprint or her tired shadow,

lost in the hollow darkness that bore

the heat, rising on her burning cheeks,

her wrinkled skin and furrowed brows

sharp against my blurry memory

of her. Eventually even her yellowed

photograph shriveled in the back of my

drawer, tender gaze hollowed by termites,

during that time when I got my first barbie doll

and ended up breaking her neck. Eventually even

the house eroded, the starfruit tree struck

by lightning, dismantled furniture buried

beside my grandpa, who fought bravely

for a lost cause. I remember her

differently each time, sometimes

with her nose broken and sometimes

missing a tooth, as if the weight of my hand

bears the passage of time, clenching

in its fist the soldier’s ashes and

the corners of his smiles.

Hovering above our troubles,

over our house and the ones around,

was a force borne in every breath,

every heart beat, every thread

of your being, my scorching fingers

pressed on her face, her shaky cry,

the clacking of a spoon on the floor,

plain oatmeal spilled on her apron

as commanded by my lack of appetite.

Above all, a brutal randomness:

the days it took her to leave me,

why I slapped her in the first place,

how grandpa kept fighting just to see

himself fight in a war meant to be lost,

how you live to see your death,

how the dead laugh at what used to matter,

how we’ve loved so much

and get to keep so little.

The house stood to see its door hinges

eaten by moths, the wind effacing

love letters on the sand, in every crack

in the walls the laughter of the people

who once walked their way in and out.

old_house-1242905941l

Image: Old House, George Baratashvili

Lotus Seed

The sunken emptiness between your raspy breath

and her broken steps over the vast fields

of the unknown you’ve known

all your life. Pumped with dust

her heart wanders farther than you could see

or ever dare to touch even in your vast, vicious

dreams. When the petals unfurl you see it,

in an earthly absence of mind you trust

with the whole of your heart

in its muffled presence.

You know it is

when it thrusts itself

into existence between

the gap of your teeth. You know

because you’ve heard it pop.

You know it

when the scent of its flower spatters

a poignant peace shaking

your whole being with the immensity

of her distance. Only

after you swallow its hollowness

wholly do you start

to realize all along

you’ve known.