It’s so funny to me, in the most wrenching way, that all my great heartbreaks have happened in the summer: this season is a turning over of sorts, & so often I mark my summers by the hurt they bear, the hurt like a violent rush between my ribs. The hurt that despite everything I always survive.
But survive I do, through & above the intricate skin-tight sun-smoked ache, & this, my friends, is how I am.
This is how I am: finding solace in poems that hold more grace for this season than I know now how to pronounce. “Rarely have I felt more charmed / than on Ninth Street, watching a woman / stop in the middle of the sidewalk / to pull up her hair like it’s / an emergency—and it is. / People do know they’re alive. / They hardly know what to do with themselves.” Maybe someday I too will be able to spin poetry out of summer, will be able to rename all my flourishing heartbreak into something beautiful.
This is how I am: stretching my body through the hurt, lingering in late afternoon light, noticing of jolts of wildflowers along the sidewalks, eating nectarines. (Nectarines, I have found, are as good a remedy for heartbreak as any.)
“A white girl comments, offhand, how / surprised she was to find I have no accent & I have / to stop myself from snapping it’s an American / accent. That’s not the same thing. It must be nice, / so easily renaming a saviour into nothingness.” In case you missed it: I had a poem published in the summer issue of Ghost City Review on aloo curry & the limits of language, a love letter to my family, a reminder for myself. Also available to read on the blog.
This is how I am:
inspired by incredible women all around me, making their mark in ways indelible & wild & true, both in this world & out of it, both precisely & nothing like me. This is how I am: trying to be more like them, but over & above that trying to be more like me.
& while we are on the subject of incredible women! I was so fortunate to be published in a dark red blush of an anthology, one full of women’s fight & fury, song & strife. Reclaim was edited by my gorgeous friend Elizabeth Ruth Deyro, who also works with me at Half Mystic; you can purchase a paperback copy here & a PDF copy here, or read my poem “Teeth / Trespass” on the blog for free (“She says what do you want. I want a tempest. / Want the aftertaste of rainwater. I want a life / where I can kiss her & never be afraid again.”).
This is how I am: hurt & angry & hopeless & still moving.
For my fellow cinema fans, what are your thoughts on this New Yorker article on the best films of 2018? Are there any you would add or take out? How many have you seen? What films would you include on the 2019 list? (Though I am genuinely the worst person I know for watching current films, I’d suggest Avengers: Endgame, perhaps the best superhero film I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Also, if we’re including shorts, Kitbull unashamedly made me sob in front of my laptop—I so, so adore what I’ve seen of Pixar’s SparkShorts series thus far.)
& speaking of “best of” lists, I’m overwhelmed with love to have my little piece “War Story With My Father” featured in Entropy’s Best Poetry of 2018 list! I got to meet several new friends also on the list & I feel so lucky to be part of this in tandem & conversation with them, like a quiet bright promise. You can read “War Story” on the blog right here: “After him there are no / ways to make dusk small again. / No method to serenade grief / soft enough for the streets to / swallow. You can’t undo glory. / You can’t force a home to / unwind & fix itself.”
This is how I am:
so ready to begin university after a tender & rain-soaked twelve months away. This gap year has been the best possible thing that could have happened to me but now I am ready to start the next chapter, leggy & newborn. Is it odd to say that I miss a school I’ve never attended? No matter—I do. I do.
I’ve moved into Princeton a little early before the semester begins, the better to settle doctors & medications & transition the systems of chronic illness into my new home—& also the better to steal away for day trips into New York! Goodness, I miss New York. (& I promise I’ve even been there!) I always find so much light in Mari Andrew’s magical NYC things series, & this profile of an old-fashioned street photographer working in SoHo felt like sun-song blooming in my chest.
This is how I am: trying not to apologise for the illnesses that have shaped so much of me. This lovely feature the folks at Like One Another did on me helped with the validation, the healing—”My depression, anxiety, OCD, and hyperacusis haven't held me back from publishing three [now four!] books and starring in an award-winning short film. Mental health conditions don’t have to hold anyone else back from being who they are, either.”
& more gentle things buoying me up when it comes to illness, like shoots in soil: this note from a reviewer on my third book, poems for the sound of the sky before thunder (“[thunder] reminds me of those formative friendships I had as a teenager when ‘my girls’ were talking me through death urges. The speaker chooses life and then asks ‘doesn’t that astonish you?’ which feels so real. I was the girl expected not to live, the one in and out of hospitals, the one who spent six weeks in the hospital after graduation.”), the only psychiatric hospital in Sierra Leone, & tips for staying positive when your body hates you.
The moment I step foot in New York once more my first stop is the public library, a homeland if I ever knew one. (I can’t say I have ever visited the LA library mentioned in the Wit & Delight essay, though I was there just a few weeks ago—perhaps it warrants a trip back west? I’ve bought plane tickets for less!)
This is how I am: searching for gasps of freedom in between the chains of grief.
This is how I am: I spent the summer reading the three great epics of the ancient world, Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey & Virgil’s Aeneid, & it felt sure & swaying & soft to see my own hurt reflected in centuries-old poetry, felt good to know the unbearable disease of feeling isn’t new, the unbearable disease of humanness even less so. There is nothing that soothes my soul so much as a very large stack of books.
“So maybe it’s, ‘don’t be afraid.’ We can / rewrite Icarus, flame-resistant feathers, / wax that won’t melt, I mean it, I’ll draw up / a prototype right now, that burning ball / of orange won’t stop us, it’ll be everything / we dream the morning after, even if we fall / into the sea—we are boats, remember? / We are pirates. We move in nautical miles.” Related: I reach for Ilse Bendorf in the moments I feel most afraid, the moments I most desperately need strength.
This is how I am:
constantly in awe of how many dream competitions have been generous enough to honour my work recently. My little poem “Ars Poetica” received a Merit from the 2019 Singapore National Poetry Competition (“Every secret is the / same secret. How about: I love you in the way good / people kill spiders who do them no harm.”), & “Points of Faith” was the Grand Prize winner in Vocal’s 2019 Poets in Motion Competition (“Make up a new month, decorate it with more angels / or less mouths. Go away for a long time & try hard as you / can to forget the smell of her skin, wreathed into ball- / point pens, the screen door never fully closed.”). The latter is also available to read on the blog. Thank you for accepting these offerings, my loves, poems like lungfuls of cold sharp air inhaled in the early morning.
A necessary reminder. Forgetting is my most marketable skill, my most self-destructive one. Also, two things that made me think by making me laugh: An Open Letter to the Female Hat-Wearing Dog From “Go Dog, Go” & Materials I’d Rather Be Than “Wife Material”.
This is how I am: I’ve been in so many airports for the past few weeks & I think there must be a god in the quiet of a 4 AM terminal, sitting in the dark with a suitcase & a near-dawn sky outside the window that stretches on forever & ever & ever.
“I think in my work, what I’m trying to say is: listen. This is how it feels to me. Can you hear me? Does it feel the same way to you?” In celebration of my latest book release, Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing, Styleguide was kind enough to share another interview with me on shifting definitions of queerness & womanhood, confessionals & manifestos, how we choose the people we love, the physicality of poetry, & the creation process of Portrait. Also available to read on the blog!
& in case you missed my talking about it constantly, at all times, in every possible moment: the new book Portrait of My Body as a Crime I’m Still Committing is out now, $7 for a PDF edition or $15 for a paperback, & I’d so love to send it your way. Ng Yi-Sheng, one of my poetic heroes & a dear friend, wrote a marvellous recap of the book launch in which he categorised the night as “pretty damn cool”… which I adore & will be using on my résumé from here on out.
I am so desperately in love with this art series, both concept & execution. I want to write words that make me feel the way Berndnaut Smilde’s work does, words that slip through fingers in the gentlest sense, quiet & fragile & true.
“As women and chronically ill people, we are often told what our bodies are and are not. This is an attempt, not to define the body, but to allow it space to breathe. … There isn't a way to put art into the world that is right or wrong. We have access to a furiously stunning platform in the Internet that levels the playing field in a way that no other time in history has afforded us. These stories have always existed but this generation is so blessed that, on a global scale, we can finally hear them. They exist on the same artistic level as the poets whose voices we've been hearing for centuries. They're loud, they're joyful, they're making up for lost time, and they're not going anywhere.”
This just in: barefoot queer chronically ill teenage girl poets can make national newspapers too! I was featured for the third (!) time in The Straits Times, Singapore’s most widely-circulated newspaper, alongside two other revolutionary, gorgeous-sparking poets. I am still absolutely pinching myself—this was a dream shoot & a dream interview. & the article is also featured in ST’s “10 Must-Reads” column!
This is how I am: trying to laugh through the shards in my throat. Trying to listen for birdsong & my pulse ever blossoming, ever honest. Reaching for the words to describe the infinite mountain of grief & the ways I’m learning to climb it, a great cosmos-bound ache, reaching & reaching & never quite finding, & realising this in itself is a kind of truth.
This is how I am: sage-bound, golden in sadness.
I’m honoured to have two of my softest, most strawberry-spined poems in Tenderness Lit. One, “Lovesong to Vernal Equinox, Standard Time”, has already been shared on the blog (“Trillions of beautiful things but just one you. / & isn’t that miraculous, the earth giving up / its glory in springtime.”); the second, “About This Morning” is coming very soon (“Your cat walks up to me, butts her head / against my hands. I wonder if naming / an animal is a form of violence.”). Tenderness’ mission speaks so deeply to me & it’s a joy to be part of the luminescent things they’re making.
This is how I am: tickled by this & also this—a delectation of nymphs! (Side note: if you had to choose a collective noun for your name, what would it be? I’m thinking “a blossom of Topazes”. Or maybe “a September of Topazes”? “A thunder”? I could go on!)
This is how I am: trying to visit love.
This is how I am:
it’s heartbreak season once more, & though I am doing my best to hope & to sing & to look up, still the hole in my chest gapes ragged, the breath in my lungs unravels. It is so hard to learn how to live without someone I thought I needed. This hurt plays to the same tune every summer yet each time it somehow manages to strike me in my softest places; each time it feels both young as jazz & old as oceans. Every day I am inventing new methods of mourning, holding onto my wounds & naming them beautiful in every permutation I can. The centre of every poem is this. I have loved. I have had to deal with that.
This is how I am: these days are not being gentle with me. So I have resolved instead to be gentle with myself.
So: this is how I am.