Jennifer Tseng’s book The Man With My Face (AAWW 2005) won the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s National Poetry Manuscript Competition and a 2006 PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award. Poems from her new manuscript Red Flower, White Flower have appeared in or are forthcoming in Cura, H.O.W. Journal, PEN America, Ploughshares, and From the Fishouse. Chinese translations of several Red Flower, White Flower poems recently appeared in the Beijing journal Dear Whistle.
I love the poets ruled by love
Who write: I am vexed to love you.
As if love is a dog that leads
Them like lambs to the slaughter.
To be a lamb for love is human.
To be a dog for love is human.
Here outside that pasture I am
Ruled by something else and yet
I love the poets ruled by love.
Please, take me to their leader.
Elegy with Red Flower
One vermillion poppy in a clover field.
Rain the field drinks you drink.
Sun that lights you lights the field.
The beasts trample you; the beasts ignore you as food.
They are like pandas who only want bamboo.
Though you grow in their sloe, cow-shaped shadows,
You will never be slung by their continental tongues,
Feel their teeth clip you like grass from your stem.
To them, you are nothing.
A failed color, a false scent. To them,
You are a clover gone wrong.
What then will devour you, who then
Will you be, here, where you have landed,
Red flower in a stranger’s green field?
“…not quite the rose/not quite the roots…” – Lee Herrick
Stem of the Hybrid Perpetual
You hold the rose aloft.
If root is a secret
& rose a prize,
You are the telling.
In you the two are sisters.
Throat of happiness,
Singer of flames, music
Of red & white, your
Pinnate leaves evoke
A strange bird’s flight.
Green road, you
Begin in darkness,
& end in light.
You touch everything.
You are the axis.
At your apex
A nation grows.
Suitor of heaven,
Child of earth,
Bearer of thorns & gifts,
You hold the rose.
Lee Herrick is the author of This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions, 2007) and Gardening Secrets of the Dead, forthcoming from WordTech Editions in 2013. His poems have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Hawaii Pacific Review, Many Mountains Moving, The Bloomsbury Review, and online at From the Fishouse, among others, and in anthologies such as Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley, 2nd Edition and The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems from the San Francisco Bay Watershed. He is the founding editor of In the Grove, and he was the guest editor of New Truths: Writing in the 21st Century by Korean Adoptees for Asian American Poetry and Writing (2010). He lives in Fresno, California and teaches at Fresno City College and in the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.
for Ch’on Sang Pyong, 1930—1993
Because after imprisonment, you could laugh
with your mouth so wide open, as if to swallow
the swirling bats of the CIA, because when you
disappeared in 1971, your friends thought
about your poems and you going back to heaven,
because I am dreaming of the sunset over Eurwangni
tonight, there is jujube tea in Insadong waiting for us.
Did you drink every hour of 1972?
And when they found you, unable
to remember your name but that you were a poet,
did you remember the answer to your own question?
That there is no answer at all but the request that
someone would find you in that fractured slur,
the tired lean and the pen your only possession,
that someone like her, with a language like food,
would know how tea can restore such fatigue?
I am twenty-five yards past the last breaking wave
a flute plateaued at the maestro’s steady baton hand
I am five stones from the last good wind
I am four bones from a cow after the shotgun.
I am the idea that did not detonate.
Brothers, we are Korean, so we know
about fracture – family, country, tongue.
We know the volcanic descent of government.
Once, a woman told me
I am the only one who understands
the cost of her survival.
So we did all we could.
We touched each other’s hands,
inhaled deeply, contemplated not letting go.
Katie Hae Leo is a poet, playwright, and essayist whose work has appeared in journals such as Asian American Literary Review, Water~Stone Review, Kartika Review, Midway Journal, Asian American Poetry & Writing, and Asian American Plays for a New Generation (in Sun Mee Chomet’s Asiamnesia). Her chapbook Attempts at Location was a finalist for the Tupelo Press Snowbound Award and is available through Finishing Line Press. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota.
How to Divide a Peninsula
Here is a table. It is a good table. We agree that this table must be spread, like all good tables. But what to spread it with? Here is a fine linen, here silk, here cotton, here a stiff wool. Each will share the beauty of this table. As a child I often sat under a table but never once thought about what the table wanted. Only legs and laps, only who owned them and what they meant to me. Such is the strange fate of tables. To exist only as we use them. Tables do not know what they want. Tables know heat and cold and the hands that touch them. They measure time in flakes of wood. If they could speak, their voices would be filled with dirt.
No Gun Ri, or The Battle That Wasn’t
Four hundred porcelain cups lie broken in the sun. Who will take responsibility?
The policy regarding cups dictates that all cups must first apply to the Bureau of Ceramic Housewares for permission to assemble in open fields. This includes but is not limited to tea parties, picnics, family reunions, and outdoor banquets.
The official position on destruction of fine china is illustrated in a letter from the Ambassador of Dining to the Undersecretary of Kitchen Behavior. In this letter the ambassador worries that the extermination of unauthorized cups within the conflict zone might damage relations between tea drinking countries.
Remains of broken cups are still being discovered throughout the land. If cups had souls, they would roam the streets, unsatisfied.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Collective Memory asks that all persons with knowledge of the cup incident report to their local branch, where they will be rewarded with a Starbucks gift card and a lifetime subscription to People magazine.
Jenna Le’s first full-length collection of poetry, Six Rivers, was published by New York Quarterly Books in 2011. Her poems, essays, and translations have been published by Barrow Street, The Brooklyn Rail, New York Quarterly, Post Road, The Rumpus, Salamander, Sycamore Review, and others. She has been a finalist in the William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a nominee for the PEN Emerging Writers Award.
Phillips Beach, 6 AM
The moon, to Tantric Buddhists, is a symbol
of masculinity. Watch how he ambles
around the earth, an active little boy
gathering dirt-clods in his grubby hands,
gathering the tides, while the sun smiles blandly
from her throne at the milling hoi polloi.
It’s easy to see these things from the helm
of a boat off Phillips Beach at 6 AM:
the sun cupping her pregnant belly with both palms
the way a pyromaniac cups a flame.
With the underside of your whiskered boar,
cast a shadow on my sprouting bean.
Bite a clay pipe while drowsing in my chair,
but no harder than you’d chew your own lip.
When tides submerge the footbridge between us,
send a moth in a box as your proxy.
Mention your wife in your will, but only as often
as you’ve cried out her name in dreams.
In my orchard, the apples wear eyepatches
to hide their brown spots from view.
At the bottom of my wishing well,
a merman half-devoured by sharks lies gasping:
it’s been years since the well has known how to tell
my deepest wishes apart from his.
To an Aspiring Blues Singer
Your voice is so sweet that a heifer in heat
would tan her own hide, just to make you new shoes.
Your voice is so pure, all the butter and meat
in my pantry is yours to devour, if you choose.
Your voice is as green as unripe apple juice
that on your piano keys dribbles and spills.
But you’ll never be able to master the blues
if you think love’s an illness responsive to pills.
If you doubt me, just look at blues music’s elite:
Etta James, the great dame who on old records coos
that blindness is preferable to keen-eyed defeat,
knew all about love’s brutal nature. She knew
neither cigarettes, heroin, Prozac, nor booze
can stifle the pain of love’s porcupine quills.
Knew you’ll never be able to master the blues
if you think love’s an illness responsive to pills.
Or consider Ms. Joplin, who, quite indiscreet,
took the stage to lament all the blowhards she’d screw
and be screwed by. Love’s nothing so simple or neat
as a serotonin shortage, eh, shaggy chanteuse?
Love’s no less than a god, the dark twin of the Muse,
and Janis was one of his martyrs, his kills.
Child, you’ll never be able to master the blues
if you think love’s an illness responsive to pills.
I know what’s at stake, what you’re risking to lose:
when folks doubt you’re sane, they belittle your skills.
But you’ll never be able to master the blues
if you think love’s an illness responsive to pills.
Jeffrey Hecker was born in 1977 in Norfolk, VA, of quarter-hapa Japanese descent. A graduate of Old Dominion University, his debut book Rumble Seat is published by San Francisco Bay Press (www.sanfranciscobaypress.com). Recent work has appeared in altdaily.com, Cannonball City, The Waterhouse Review (where he was nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize), the Los Angeles-based Zocalo Public Square, and forthcoming in London’s La Reata Review. He lives with his wife Robin in Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia, USA.
Generations of Robertos Paying Attention
for Lisa A. Flowers
Roberto II knows exactly how many people live in every hacienda on the coast.
Roberto III knows roughly how many haciendas stand unoccupied on the coast,
though none of the owners.
Roberto IV couldn’t locate the guest bathroom in his own hacienda.
Next week, Roberto III plans to drive Roberto IV to the countryside,
get lost on purpose.
Can Roberto IV handle family business if Roberto III and Roberto II
disappear, during the Rapture for instance? This is to be the test.
Can Roberto IV rely upon an outdated map of a snow pea farm,
willful local migrant workers pointing shovel blades from sky to dirt?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know. Roberto IV and Roberto III
visit Roberto II’s hacienda.
The Boricua Popular Army visits seconds later,
gun stocks pressed hard against right shoulders,
even if left-handed.
Roberto IV asks Roberto III
“Why do mercenaries move so jerky?”
before both are shot dead.
Roberto III had wanted to answer, “They’re appraising
our frescoes,” which would have sounded patronizing,
but understand Roberto III had asked Roberto II
the same question at a less strenuous time
and Roberto II had blown him off by cigar-puffing.
The sultriest senorita among all Roberto IV’s haciendas prefers to sleep
in Roberto II’s hacienda. She’s shot asleep. Her sister is, instantly sultrier,
shot awake. This is probably all for the best.
Large Moon Evaluation
Lieutenant Uhura was the first woman
to say no woman
completely loves you
until you’re completely wrong
and she completely backs you.
Lieutenant Uhura was the first mother
to tell another mother quit
talking like an infant to your husband
baby like boss
father like god
sister like mechanic
sitter like physician
Christmas tree salesman like rapist
Shaposhnikov like Rachmaninoff.
Lieutenant Uhura, asked about earth,
responded “you mean
I’m finally off?”
Bad Bathroom Breaks
Coyote Chipotle Eatery, 3 miles outside of Jeddito, Arizona
The sink to urinal threshold tile transitions Herringbone Mosaic to Basketweave Marquina
without warning. The most we can hope for is to shake dry our urethras and continue
to look forward. The pattern projects a step up where there is no step up. There is no step.
Many cowboys (I suspect cowgirls in the next room too) fall to the smooth sticky surface,
rebirth the word doosey. I follow with the word illusion. I wash but I do not dry my hands.
Rest Area, Curt Gowdy State Park, Cheyenne, Wyoming
It needs to be explained someday why a factory-produced sign appears only on the women’s
lavatory door reading: NO DWARVES BEFORE 6:30 P.M. I return to the jeep eager to tell
my wife, who didn’t have to pee, a timeless story. She cuts me off. In the parking lot,
she tells me I just missed a long line of tiny hookers, all checking wrist-watches,
brush past her kneecaps. I ask, “No shit?” She asks, “Didn’t I tell you I didn’t have to go?”
Homedale, Idaho, 4-H, Port-O-Let
This town’s name was chosen from a hat. Half the commode seat’s missing. Front to mid-back,
it could be a mouth-guard for a giant. No tank cover, the flapper gasps. To sit requires a butt-
compression counterproductive to the act required of its cheeks. I hear spades shoveling outside
these plastic walls, unsuccessful prior visitors digging holes. One says she’ll happily leave her
tool for me in case I’m irregular. I don’t know how to thank her. I’m regular.
Yim Tan Wong was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and spent her formative years in the American mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts. She studied English and French Literature at Emory University and earned an MFA from Hollins University, where she also received a teaching fellowship and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Portland Review, Spillway, Off the Coast, Crab Orchard Review, Crab Creek Review, MARGIE, and Michigan Quarterly Review, among other journals.
Acacia Moon / Tornado Snow
after René Magritte’s Key to Dreams (1930)
Slice a window into six glass squares. Float an egg
inside square one. In two, flaunt a footless shoe
with tassels & a two-inch heel. Drift a derby hat
beneath the tacit egg, and below the shoe, a candle melts,
flame unflickering, still as water imitating glass,
block five’s clear tenant. Frame six: a sledgehammer
mid-swing. Angled forty-five degrees, the sledgehammer
is labeled le Désert as though smashed shells of eggs
compose the desert’s sand instead of shattered glass.
Glass, aka l’Orage, is a static, crystal storm, what the shoe
once bet the nimbostratus could not do. Definitions melt.
Word & picture alloys vow: “Snow” is but a word for “Hat.”
Have you ever worn storm snows like dusty, floppy hats?
Unleashed a glass anger that could break a thousand hammers?
Or watched a mirror liquefy your face & melt
its cloud-patched skin into the canary scramble of an egg?
Have you felt in you a ghost foot as though you were a shoe?
Or panicked when you did not see yourself in a looking-glass?
Spell “Glass” S-T-O-R-M, though others may insist G-L-A-S-S.
Letters are but coins: They clink & toast inside a tongueless pauper’s hat.
Whether you call La Lune “the moon”, “a camel” or “a gnu”, a shoe—
but not a shoe—is what the high-heeled, tasseled hammer
slings, cooking dim, dim din. Yet, trust René’s elliptic map, equating “Egg”
to tree “Acacia,” burning worn-out routes until it melds melted
canals into nightmare, love, a war, a law, or lie. Clarity forever melts,
twists up the funnel’s train wreck roar & snowflakes made of glass
mosaic the tornado’s spinning trail of wrecks. An orphaned egg,
free-range, freestyles new names for moons circling planet Hat.
Cosmologists calculate no ceiling to what one can hammer
picture-word relationships into, so, wear this chaos like a shoe
of shell, of fire, glass or sand, this shape-shifting shoe
that glistens like a patent leather moon, ever-melting
cantabile through freelance wind and wax. The master hammers
silicate alphabets out of shredded dictionaries and prescription glass
to read, to really see, past paint, past words of sand, la Neige, the hat,
giraffes who munch acacia leaves where some insist they see an egg.
Rocket through this shuffled world; wear its red-red shoes of glass.
Words are storms & beasts: they melt & mate, trade identities like hats.
Sledge your hammer! Order disorder, the mayhem omelet of a restless egg.
Rene, on your birthday,
I did not wash the green apples before I ate.
That would have been like bathing a reel of film,
or rinsing the telephone in soapy water.
Apples were machines linking brushstrokes
to a crucial deep breath I fought to catch
and stack inside my chest
though my lungs resisted, contracted.
To disconnect distances from Brussels
to Boston, my teeth to your hair, from smoke
to a tuba on fire, from rain
to an age of ice —trapped between
what I tasted with my eyes, and pinched
by what I saw in shadows, sung to
by pulses I heard with the heel of my hand,
whatever was trapped between sensation
and translation, in one bite, my incisors
sliced past its sour skin,
through its wiry core, to the secretive seed.
It was the core of a day that could fill
a room with an apple tall as the ceiling,
wide as the Seine. I bragged
to the nearest listening soul, an open, floating
umbrella, that this was my first
fair -weather cloud.
My heart, also an umbrella, unsure
it was raining, opened, collapsed, opened once more.
Rey Escobar lives in Evanston, IL. with his wife Christine, founder of Green Parent Chicago (http://greenparentchicago.com), and their two self-educated kids, Ezra and Lucie. He is a member of the Next Objectivist, address in the ether: http://nextobjectivists.blogspot.com/, physical evidences: twice a month at http://messhall.org/
Identity crisis invents the indigo Inspector Sands, his audiophile abiding
idiopathic criticism inverses the indisposition Inspector Sands, his bitch box budding
idleness crock investigations the indium Inspector Sands, his ceramic pickup callow
idyll crone invidious the individualize Inspector Sands, his derive four channel dewy
igloo cropper invitationals the indolent Inspector Sands, his ear blower enduring
ignominy crossbreed invokes the induce Inspector Sands, his fueled audio frozen
indicated-horsepower crossfire invulnerable the indulged Inspector Sands, his gramaphone green
ilium crosspollination iodizes the industrialized Inspector Sands, his high-fidelity hand in glove
illadvised crossway innings-pitched the inebriated Inspector Sands, his intercom intact
illfated crotchety infrared the ineligible Inspector Sands, his jukebox juiced up
illinois crowd irate the inertia Inspector Sands, his kinetic stereo keeping things raw
illstarred cruciate iridiums the inexcusable Inspector Sands, his lance voice lasting
illusage crudity irk the inexpert Inspector Sands, his mono needle maidenly
illustrate cruiser ironic the infallible Inspector Sands, his nickel quadrophonic new
image crummier ironware the infantile Inspector Sands, his out herod Herod original untouched
Tiel Aisha Ansari is a Sufi, martial artist, and data analyst living in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bruised Peach, Islamica Magazine, Windfall, Verseweavers, The Lyric, Barefoot Muse, and the VoiceCatcher anthology from Portland Women Writers. Her poetry has been featured on KBOO, Prairie Home Companion and MiPoRadio and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her collection Knocking from Inside is available from Ecstatic Exchange. You can visit her online at https://www.knockingfrominside.blogspot.com and https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/TielAishaAnsari
At the Japanese Peace Garden in Waterfront Park
the boulders stand brown and angular
like neglected teeth. Chiseled kanji
spell out the haiku of exile
across their weathered faces.
Here, a glimpse out a train window
of a home rolling backward out of sight;
there, the names of camps,
desert stretching away
beyond barbed wire.
Today cherry petals were falling,
stroking the surfaces of stone.
Today a young couple was being photographed
in a bridal dress and a natty suit.
Holding each other under the flowering trees
and drinking from opposite sides of a fountain
like their parents, sipping from opposite ends of an ocean.
I thought the rocks had turned to a row of old women
wiping drops of Oregon rain
from their stone faces.
I wanted to line up a row of pebbles at their feet
and say “Here, Grandmothers,
here are your grandchildren.”
The old women who came over from China
owned narrow-skirted dresses with round high collars
that buttoned above the left breast. Dresses made from:
grey silk embroidered with flying cranes
scarlet heavily brocaded with bamboo
pink satin heaped with plum blossoms like summer snow.
Delicate fabrics stretched over stiff shells.
We, the daughters fed on American beef
the round-eyed granddaughters,
could not fit our larger frames into those dresses.
We cut them up, repurposed the cloth
as vests or fancy cushions.
I had never seen my grandmother wear those clothes.
She chose wash-n-wear, slacks and pantsuits, occasionally a skirt
saying “It’s easier,
I’m too old for fancy clothes.”
I quilt together scraps of cloth and stories:
this is the dress in which my grandfather first saw her
and forgot all about the political meeting he was supposed to attend
this is the one she was wearing when the Japanese bombs began to fall
and she protected my infant mother with only her own body
in this one she took ship for a new land that would fill her children’s mouths
with a foreign tongue. I rip a seam.
I stitch another square.
Jason Wee is an artist and a writer. He is a co-editor of Softblow Poetry Journal and the author of My Suit (Math Paper Press 2011). He lives in Cambridge, New York and Singapore.
Think of an older body lying on
top of a younger body.
Think of that body above waking up
slightly startled at the sight
of having slept with one’s long lost self,
the bed a time machine
bringing one back to another dark room,
when one touches a stranger
for the solace usually found alone.
Think of the body below
stirring, brushing its hands on bits and parts,
a pit of coarse hair, elbows,
ribs, returning to slumber, satisfied
with the evidence of flesh
careworn and starved, knowing the shape of
a self so disappointed
proves its power to unmake experience,
to ignore pain as it stands
for another year, hour, another song
passing. The older hums, stops.
When the body below wakes, will it know
those eyes it looks in on, or
nothing grasped, will it ask to be known
naked and seized for the first time?
Vanni Taing is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at Western Michigan University, and is a 2010 recipient of WMU’s Gwen Frostic Creative Writing scholarship. Her work has appeared in Lantern Review, CURA, and others.
I built my home in a bottle. My father said I should have built a plane, but I said, no. Think of the expenses. A Gulfstream can burn anywhere from 250 to 440 gallons of fuel an hour. Where will the money come from, I ask him, I have no money. So I built a small boat in my bottle to retire to when I tired of my mother’s accusations: You want get raped, huh? You cut hair like boy. You ugly.
Her knuckles clock the glass. I do not come out. I strap myself in and wait for the gales to subside. She rolls the bottle, round and round and I hear the sounds of air: pressure, release, confinement. I peer up the thick neck and study its narrow mouth.