Fierce Women I Know

Today I woke up angry, annoyed, frustrated–at waking up late, not being able to sleep earlier than 4 am, for procrastinating on grad school assignments, at being corrected in a work email by someone outside of my department whom I’ve never met, for not cleaning the house. For feeling so out of control of even simple, daily behaviors like sleeping early or reading a book out on the deck for 30 minutes.

I turned to writing and performing to calm myself. To channel energy into something positive and good and worthwhile. To remind myself of a time in my life when I was surrounded by an incredible community who helped me find my voice and sense of purpose. A community I’m not sure I still have as I have not nurtured it or been part of it for a while. A community I’m hoping is still there somewhere.

So here’s a little poem I wrote ten years ago that I rediscovered just last week. I wrote it for Creative Explosion, the first show I curated and hosted, and which celebrated Asian and Pacific Islander women.

The Fierce Women I Know

The Fierce Women I know
have fled countries carrying nothing
but the memory of their homeland on their skin.
 
They have outlived world wars
been bought, enslaved, persecuted
and denied the right to an education.
 
They have engaged in battles for their bodies
witnessed power corrupt their families
and felt the force of a fist against flesh.
 
The Fierce Women I know
have survived history's attempts
to break us down and wipe us out.
 
They use their strength to rewrite
what's miswritten about us
fighting slogans and stereotypes
stamped across our chests.
 
They roar from rooftops and cages
from City Hall to the steps of Congress
demanding equal access to resources.
For everyone.
 
Fierce Women know their own minds.
They call you out on your ignorance
and love you at the same time.
 
Fierce women know their own hearts
though doubts may set in once in a while.
We take on too much
but we take care of one another.
We cry out in unison when our spirits are broken
and wander alone, together until grown enough
to return home.
 
Fierce Women may hold grudges
but we remain critical and conscious
knowing the movement's beyond us
and the time and space we occupy.
 
My Fierce Sisters and I misbehave and play outlaw
Bound to nothing and no one but to who we are.
We are survivors, community organizers, lawyers,
students, poets, movers and shakers.
We are mothers, daughters, sisters, partners
Holding up the sky.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center also released CARE PACKAGE today, to help us all heal and live throughout times like these.

National Poetry Month: A Throwback to the 2000s

Happy National Poetry Month!

To celebrate, I decided to travel through time and read my very old poems. Poems I wrote in high school when I was a writing machine. In 2001, I wrote 45 poems. 45! Are they any good now? Who knows. Probably not. It doesn’t really matter if they’re any good or will not stand the test of time. What I’m taking away from looking at old work is that I kept writing. And writing consistently. I wasn’t afraid of what ended up on the page. That’s a feeling worth reclaiming.

I was incredibly emo at the time, but then, who wasn’t at that age? Many of the poems are about crushes (one-sided), not feeling seen, defying expectations of beauty and femininity, and wanting to claim my life for myself. Themes that, looking back now, at times still permeate my recent and current work.

So come on this journey with me, as I dig deep and try to remember what inspired some of the pieces below.

Driving down I-95
 
Windows rolled down
Stereo volume at its zenith
Trees blur as we speed down I-95.
You play our favorite CD
Sound waves penetrate the silence.
The lyrics roar from my mouth
And you bang your head
Words form on your lips.
Cars drive past, glances linger
Two young women sputtering nonsense
We laugh at how they gawk
And turn the volume knob clockwise.
 
I grip the wheel, reluctant to let go
And you don’t dare touch the door handle.
How we both desperately wish
That somehow
We could drive forever
With the wind rumbling
The volume near the point of deafness
The trees smearing past
As far away from home
To escape suffocation
From a life not our own.

(c) 2001

To this day I remember the moment that inspired this poem. I was in the car with my sister, windows rolled down, both of us wishing we could drive forever instead of going home.

Grace foreign to my body
 
Her hair swings past her eyes
Gliding across her face
As if the wind gently lifted the strands
And kissed her forehead.
I, walking beside her
Am tumbled down by the fierce wind
Stomped upon by the grace
Foreign to my body.
Her miniscule feet never really touch the ground
My gargantuan toes crack the floor I step.
A magnet, attracting metal
A net capturing friends
My magnet is split in half
There are holes in my net.
She speaks lyrics
I roar slogans.
Trifle with her
She will smile.
Trifle with me
And I will crush you.

(c) 2002

Did you ever have that friend who reminded you of all the things you wanted to be but weren’t? Yea, this one right here. I learned a lot from that failed friendship.

This last one is a precursor to my spoken word career. It was inspired by a book of the same title I picked up at the bookstore. It was bright green and I was yearning for an explanation as to why I felt different from others, growing up in a predominantly white county.

Yell-oh girl
 
Do I look Chinese to you?
My miniscule almond eyes
Dominating the take-out industry
With lo mein and fried rice.
 
Or maybe I’m Korean
Adopted like all the rest
Fresh off the boat, twinkie
Americanization at its best.
 
Do I look like Japanese?
Sakura, Hiroshima, Tamagotchi
Animation freak, techno geek
Devouring shark, seaweed, sushi.
 
Do you know where I come from?
Or do you automatically assume
I originate from another third world country
Where mail-order brides bloom.
 
Have you witnessed Pinoy power
Defiant frail bodies against an armored truck
The pride of a nation never faltering
Never sinking in the muck.
 
An archipelago
Its people engulfed by the sea
On a map can you spot it?
You will, once the world is done with me.

(c) 2001

These poems will never be published (aside from this blog right here). They are not monumental, life-changing, award-worthy pieces. But they are precious to me. They are my own time capsule. Proof that writing has always been there for me, even when I abandoned it at times.

Today

It’s been a while since I’ve written a poem that wasn’t a song.

I haven’t really been processing my feelings about the global pandemic and its repercussions on our daily lives, aside from its impact on Yappie the Musical.

I think I was hiding behind the musical, convincing myself that I was ok, too.

So here’s my attempt at making sense of the tangled thoughts and emotions from the past few weeks.

Today
at the store
I walked between shelves
hands in pockets
practicing decisiveness. 
Perusing, holding weight
between my fingers
was yesterday. 

Today
I float through space
wave to you from two aisles down
fist bump the air. 
We smile. 
Because it's funny. 
This new normal. 

Today
only air will brush past my arm. 
I won't feel the heat on your skin
sense your heart beat in a hug. 

Today 
the distance between us is thick
choking on cries for contact
to know we're alive. 

Until

Tonight

even the crickets are silent

as if they felt the earth

quake from rifle shots

each one landing louder than the last.

Only the echoes of my footsteps on the pavement

cut through the night sky

a row of houses holding their breath

waiting hoping praying

for anything, something

to happen.

As if you can blink away the guns

hide in cookie cutter neighborhoods

until things die down

until someone else solves the problem

until another shot pierces through your window.

Throwback: The Commuter Series

A decade ago I had a different blog and website, which I neglected in my hiatus from the arts. Unfortunately, I never saved my posts before I let go of the domain. I know, I regret it a bit. Ok, a lot. But today I was able to find some work I saved on my laptop!

Back then I traveled to DC three to four times a week. I spent the majority of the day in my car, on the train, thinking, dreaming. So I started what I called the Commuter Series, a series of writing inspired by a commute, written or conceived while on a commute, written about commuting (a movement and migration of bodies) whether by car, by bus, by train, by plane, by my own feet.

Here is arguably the best work to come out of the series, a poem called A deep love poem:

You've turned into a favorite poem of mine. 
I used to recite you on train rides
Not for practice
But like a cloud looming over my head
You were always there.
I thought if I repeated you enough times
I’d rhyme my way to a resolution.
With every attempt at memorization
The words would ease the discomfort in my chest
But the pain was still mine and mine alone
And you weren't going anywhere.
 
So I gathered my courage and told the world about you.
As the room sighed and ached with me
The microphone leading the way
I saw you slip away
Just as quickly as the time
You ran your fingers down my arm as if to catch me
But didn’t hold my hand.
 
Now you’re no longer mine
You’re no longer you.
Just a poem.
A deep love poem
A bittersweet poem
A clichéd heartbreak comfort poem
Shaped by an audience to fit their story.

Upcoming events

I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities to perform, share my work, and advocate for the arts. Here’s where I’ll be in the next two weeks!

Tabling for the Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective at the Baltimore APA Heritage Month Celebration // Friday, May 31 // 5:00 – 9:00 PM // Brown Center, MICA // The event is FREE but advanced registration is required via Event Brite.

Judging the Capturing Fire Semifinal Poetry Slam // Friday, May 31 // 8:30 – 11:00 PM // Busboys & Poets Takoma

Hosting the Filipino American Association of Upper Chesapeake (FAAUC) 33rd Anniversary Dinner Dance // Saturday, June 1 // 7:00 PM – 1:00 AM // Richlin Ballroom, Edgewood, MD // Tickets $60 in advance

Performing a short set at Katipunan Filipino Festival // Saturday, June 8 // 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM (my performance is at 1:00 PM) // Timonium Fairgrounds // $5 tickets

The closing of Tornkid, the collaboration between Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective and Cohesion Theatre Company // Sunday, June 9 // 4:00 PM // 923 S East Avenue, Baltimore // Tickets are Pay What You Can available online and at the door

start, end, delay, return

For months now, I’ve had this on my to do list: journal about things ending. I wanted to write something after reading about major changes to a few of the creatives I follow on social media. One online publication/community announced it was closing down in a year; the other scaled back their business to a staff of one. The announcement resonated with me as I remembered what it was like to make the decision to step down from Sulu DC, an arts organization in DC I co-founded and lead for four years.

There was something about the way that they “ended” their business that stuck with me. These women made the changes to their business on their own terms. They closed out with a sincere and thoughtful message; they expressed so much openness and hope about the future.

I had wanted to dive into that more because I felt like I didn’t give myself the chance to say goodbye the way I really wanted to. But then I kept delaying writing about it, pushing it to the following week and then the next, until here we are.

At some point between then and now, I put myself out there and contacted a new, local arts organization, the Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective (BAPAC), to see if I could help in any way and to connect with AAPI artists again. A few days later, I didn’t flake out on going to an event at the University of Maryland and reconnected with my fairy godmother (of poetry), Regie Cabico. Now I’m making a comeback performance at Busboys & Poets (14th & V location) tomorrow night and have joined the staff of BAPAC as the Marketing & Communications Manager!

I was going to write about things ending, but now I’m living a new beginning. Or is it not so much “new” as returning to what once was?

It took five years for me to come back to this path. Before, I sometimes thought of this time as a waste (but not the people I met during this time, of course–they’re the ones that held me up). Now it isn’t so much a waste, but a necessary part of the process. A necessary part of life.

I am both nervous and excited about performing tomorrow night. I am reminding myself to enjoy it–to really enjoy it this time around. To shake off any pressure of a “perfect” performance, or debuting a new poem. To let the poems carry the night.

 

Color and Creativity

IMG_0902

A few weeks ago, my sister and I went to Color Factory, an interactive exhibit celebrating color and creativity. It began last year in San Francisco, and this year, took inspiration from the color palette of New York City.

The exhibit was an absolute delight! Every room was a unique experience, and we had a grand old time playing, dancing, eating treats (which was brilliant!), and discovering our secret color (mine was a purple called “psychological thriller”).

One of my favorite things about Color Factory was the “Poems for the City” by Won McIntosh, a Queens-based writer. Won McIntosh translated the color palette into ten poems about daily life in New York City. The poems were displayed on the wall in the lobby for all to see and absorb while waiting in line. It inspired me to try and write short poems about the city but as someone who’s not a New Yorker and not quite a tourist either. Something in between?

Mercer Street (SoHo)
Here we are
Footsteps on cobblestones
Stepping sideways around strangers
In pace with people
Who have places to go

Canal Street Market
Here we are
Greeted by merchandise stalls and cafe regulars
A one-stop shop
Where choices are plenty
And nourishment always possible

They’re not the best poems, and have nowhere near the profoundness of Won’s poems, but hey, I’m just glad I actually wrote something! Hopefully, the trend will continue. Here’s to more color and inspiration in daily life.

IMG_0912

Found Poem: Declaration of Independence

armed with truths, we are the new guards of our future
friends and brethren, we govern with a purpose
in this world, we are formidable, independent populations
our towns, though distant, have no boundaries
we are free
present and divine
connected by common trials, rights, and laws
a people invested in justice and consent
a people absolute in their pursuit of happiness
but the powers of the earth and oppression
cause dangers of unparalleled allegiance and invasion
reducing liberty to swarms of bodies without life
a long train of repeated injuries

we are instruments of opinion
of tyranny
of honor and obstruction
may we not be deaf to the voice of justice
and protect and pledge
that we are
a free people

*Found poem: when you take words that resonate with you from another piece of literature and create a poem from those words. This is the poem I “found” in the Declaration of Independence.