Jason Bayani is a recent Austin, TX transplant, by way of the Bay Area. A graduate of Saint Mary’s MFA program in Creative Writing, he is a Kundiman fellow and a highly regarded veteran of the National Poetry Slam scene. His work has been published in Fourteen Hills, Muzzle Magazine, the National Poetry Slam Anthology, Rattapallax, and Write Bloody’s classroom anthology, Learn Then Burn. He has been on 7 National Poetry Slam teams, he is a National Poetry Slam finalist, and was the 2010 International World Poetry Slam representative for Oakland, California. He has worked as a counselor and mentor for at-risk youth and taught at Saint Mary’s College.
Every day during lunch break
Chuy Moreno would roll his ’67 Chevy Impala
round the front of John F. Kennedy High School,
his chassis waving like a Palm Sunday frond.
He was 16, cheekbones raw with acne,
had a mean mug more metal
than his box grill. He was a carpenter
who was a carpenter’s son. And learned enough
to know where to sign the contract, and where
commas and decimals belong in his paycheck.
Sometimes after cruising the roundabout
a few times, he would open his side door
and let a couple of the freshmen ride in the backseat
while he hit the hydraulics. We’d sit, cross armed
bending our mouths against our bottom lips, our mouths
that ached to say, again, again, again, again…
Playgrounds and Other Things
Finally let me say that I think my poem…is not “racist” but “racially complex.”— Tony Hoagland
The “privileged” white male has taken enough of a beating, don’t you think?— anonymous Internet commenter
I’m a runaway slave-master— Iggy Azalea
Eighteen, and every day the city expands
inside of my lungs. I live this in full
heaving breaths, like I finally made it
to a clearing where the white kids couldn’t catch me
anymore… and we boys, bold and buried in invincible
swagger slapped on with so much bad cologne–
that day in the city, bass piping out of
our spindly forearms, we erupted into downtown
like we could dap the streets for all its shine;
and the old lady sculpted into the corner
of Sutter and Stockton–leaning into the wind–
I heard her tell it like broken glass,
“Go back to your country”. Couldn’t get angry enough
to breathe right; trying to remember if there was a word
for what makes you suddenly clutch your chest.
Now imagine being told that she was only trying
to understand her racism (it’s complex, you know). Art
is what happens to her. You need to let it frame in the air.
There is art to recognition, the art is in the naming,
art is a mirror, you can make art out of this. You must
say it, before you can name it. There is no art
in being safe. You must risk uncomfortable truth.
The experience is not yours alone. This experience
is not owned by you. It is art, brave and honest art.
And how many more stories of trauma do we need to hear
from its least willing participants? Art rejects
the familiar. We’ve heard this story already. Stop
telling us this story already. The story is the old woman
glaring through her oversized sunglasses
at three brown boys who would presume to be this comfortable.
Imagine being asked to applaud
and feeling guilty that it takes
you so long to remember you have hands.
I’m willing to say that we share
this particular sandbox equally.
You just have to let me kick sand in your face
for at least thirty years.
There is nothing brave in showing this face.
I, too, find it real easy to talk
about how much I hate white people. It’s a pastime.
I eat that shit with my morning cereal. Most difficult
is the velocity of how I love you; things you can’t
turn off. There, dawg, is all the complex
racism any one of us can handle.
Note to poem: In 2011, at the annual AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference, Claudia Rankine read an open letter to Tony Hoagland, challenging him on his handling of race in his poetry. This was followed by a response from Hoagland, which prompted heated discussions around the topics of race and agency in art.
Minh Pham is currently working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at University of California, Riverside. He was born in Saigon, Vietnam and became a Riverside, CA native at age eight. He gained an interest in writing during his childhood when his father told him Vietnamese folktales and when his mother told him stories of how she survived the Vietnam War.
I know your brain is made out of coils of bullets
Because you told me all you hear
But other fathers have been able to win the war
Inside their heads. They are able to forget
The scent of burnt flesh, the taste of metal
From exploding shell fragments, the sounds
Of a woman’s scream
For her dead child,
And the feeling of holding their
Cold body in their hands.
How come you can’t
Fight the war that continues inside your head
Lisa Shirley has a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She has been published in several places, included Sidewalks, The Carleton Miscellany and The Interlochen Review. She is sansei (third generation Japanese American) — her mother’s family came from Kyushu in the early 1900s. She currently lives just outside New York City and works as a librarian to support her poetry habit.
There is something boring about me.
I mean, I have no idea how to get a gun and I have never
bought crack – is there a brochure I can pick up?
People on the street never approach me if their business is the least unseemly,
but my friends come back from a walk in the park
with flyers for “Big Daddy’s Piercing Parlor – bifurcation a specialty.”
I’m good with directions though,
I know how to drive from Minneapolis to Albuquerque without getting lost:
take 35W south to Texas, turn right.
Maybe this is just mid-life kicking –
I am 38 . . . but I don’t smoke.
So I’m 38,
never married, no kids,
don’t have a job or a PhD.,
don’t have Siamese cats and live in the Berkeley Hills with a lover.
No money for a Porsche, even at 38,
so I’ll have to be satisfied with my first leather coat,
black and buttery smooth with a scent so delicate
it catches me only when I move.
Satisfied with the red hair dyed
to make me look like the woman I never was,
but someone passing might think, just perhaps, that I am.
for my mother, Hana Sonoda
She wears her skin lightly,
just covering the brightness of her bones.
As she walks towards the altar,
her skull gleams through a halo of hair
like the relics encased in candlelight.
Alabaster Wednesday – ashes
lowered onto her forehead shining with sweat.
Later, awake while the moon sleeps,
she lies coiled in the heavy night,
she traces the swell,
the rise under her skin, still growing.
And she dreams
her fingernails longer,
sharper – she has the strength
to reach in and tear it all out.
This Lent she will give up everything.
An Almost Perfect Day
My mother lies still on the sofa – not really
a sofa, a futon on a wooden frame that folds
into a bed. My mother lies still on the futon. From Kyushu,
she brought these padded cotton mats, the covers spread
with peonies. My mother lies so still
on the futon. The Japanese don’t have a real “F”,
more “H” mixed with “F” – “Huhfah” – “futon:”
(my mother lies still) difficult to say –
a futile huff. And I’m waiting
for my sisters. I called Susan. No,
Laura, my real sister, biological sister.
Laura will pick up Susan. If they each drove alone,
they’d be here so much
sooner. My mother unmoving
and unmovable behind me
while the sky begins
to lighten. It’s clear, I can tell, even without
a lot of sun, even though the moon
has gone down. The sky is clear
and I think it will be . . . – my mother –
the first time in two weeks – clear,
no snow, warm
for December, – the futon –
an almost perfect day:
– mother – a day for winter coats left
unzipped, a day for thin
gloves, a day for scarves draped
just for the look, a day
I hate fall. It has nothing to do with changing leaves,
the wind sharpening from the North, or the short days or the coming snow.
No, I hate fall because three years ago, from September on,
I watched my mother die – I saw her skin loosen and her body shrink
until she was no longer my fat, round-faced mother,
until she was no longer my fat mother watching TV while we eat dill pickles, pepperoni and
barely-cooked steaks smothered in garlic salt,
until she became shaky and frail, slapping her legs when they wouldn’t carry her, saying,
“Stupid, stupid!” as if her body were a child to be shamed into working,
until she became like a chick, eating the painkillers and the vitamins, the shark cartilage and
the papaya enzymes I held out to her.
I hated all of this: I hated being alone and not knowing what to do,
and I hated that whatever I did, she continued dying,
and I hated her because she continued dying,
and I hate myself because I think she finally chose death when she saw her dying was too hard
and I hate myself because I wish she had died earlier, before I quit my job and moved home,
and I hate her because she smoked and maybe brought this on us both,
and I hate that it was me – that I couldn’t disappear and let my sisters, or my brother, take over,
and I hate myself because I wish that she had just continued growing thinner and thinner, never
quite reaching the vanishing point, that the pain continued in her forever because, in the
end, her dying wasn’t too hard on me,
and I hate her because she couldn’t continue dying.
And this is why I hate fall
because every day I remember the last night –
sitting in the dark – 4 am – waiting for the paramedics –
listening to her breathing and every day I remember
that I never thought to cover her bare feet –
even after she said, “I’m cold. I’m so cold.”
Photograph by Wing Young Huie
from Looking For Asian America: An Ethnocentric Tour, University of Minnesota Press (2007)
This issue of New Worlds is edited by Jee Leong Koh