WRITINGS


MURMURATION

 

I saw a flock of birds totally fail at that murmuration thing this evening.
Folks only photograph it when it works.
These were the beginners. The masters appear over rowboats in Ireland
Or they emerge through the dawn’s mist in Peru. The masters
Collapse and fold in flight. They make the wind their bitch.
But this band of birds I saw today—and not a good day, rather
A day of botched projects and missed communications, another
Letter arrived from the same person who’d left a voicemail,
Neither of which I desired to listen to or read so ignored the entire day—
These birds, well, if hobbling through air is a thing then they were doing it.
I could hardly call them a flock for all their flipping and faltering.
These guys were struggling. Beneath them, the interstate and the
Bridge I cross each day on my way to the office. Beneath them,
The melting snow in blackened heaps at the curbs and sidewalks.
And me, on this little patch of thawed grass looking up at them.
I was waiting for them to take that form of photographed perfection,
Clump together and whisk one another away, awing with wonder, a
Possibility made actual. I wanted breath-taking. I got last gasp before
They seemed all of them to agree with me, the letter still untouched
In my mailbox near the sink in the office,  today wasn’t the day. They
Lined themselves up instead on the telephone wires like notes of music
Nobody would want to hear.



TOOLS FOR CLEANING LISTENING DEVICES

 

 

Minutiae as method, begin with a small
black brush, handle narrow as a mouse fist.
 
Recall the same device where it lived in
the drawer of a grandfather’s desk illuminated
 
by slatted windows glazed with dust.
 Bristles the whiskers of small, soundless
 
things, badger fur perhaps, only shorter as
you seek the metaphors that make deafness
 
make sense. You have cleaned the hooves
of horses with tools called “frog” and “curry
 
comb.” They required running a hand down
the leg in soft speech; back to the shoulder,
 
you lifted the hoof like a stone wanting to be
lifted and worked. Silence is no muskrat.
 
Instruments of deafness should be so large
they require a bucket that hangs in a barn.
 
Wire loop, the plastic thread, the first to scoop
wax from the opening, the second to push it through
 
the earpiece tunnel, (allowing ears to breath, they
do, and you learn this in the inconvenience, too)
 
these ought to be yoke for an ox and the long
whip the oxen driver holds loosely unused in
 
the painting, because the silence knows the depth
of the furrow, the speed of sound it is hopeless to achieve.


The Cormorant

 
I’d have worn
The boned wingspan
As my cape of light.
 
It must have died after chasing
Through the surface
Something too shallow for its
 
Underwater flight to seize
And striking its head against
The rock shore just begun
 
From the sand stayed there,
Wings outspread in full soar,
Spun upright by shock, unconscious,
 
And then drifted dead,
For how else would it have stayed
Aflight below the surface,
 
Vast as the sky itself though
Trapped in its reflection-- for
When I left my paints and brushes
 
And clothes, shoes,
My tobacco, my hat, my entire
Afternoon painting self
 
To dive there, seeing the surface
Tremor azure to white,
Flashing at me the way of eyes
 
Blinking or of daubed brush-
Strokes that refract light
At different angles, an effect that
 
Exists so far only in my mind,
Blanching my vision already
Skewed by the removal of my hat-brim,
 
The sweat on my neck
Pearling salt into a roundness burning
My lashes and that cuprous
 
Tang lake water gives off in summer
That is much harder than the water itself
Which is soft and almost breathable when
 
You’re in it and your skin
Begins drinking it as much from a
Desire for coolness as one to dissolve,
 
Float formlessly, become
No more than a reflection of a rock
With a dreadful sole sapling
 
Hoping for the best, sucking
From the wind what most youthful
Things devour easily enough from the earth,
 
With passive
Mouths and loose hands, the ways
Of things below north
 
Where everything holds its breath
Half the year descended into
The cold unfamiliar dark—   this is how I saw it.
 
I swam as I always do, eyes closed
And in sweeping, flight-like
Motions of my arms to go far, to go
 
Deep, to enter confidence with
The clarity this water has always given,
So purified by stone
 
And bulrush, so penetrable by body
And filtered and yet at the same time
Consuming it I often feel as I become
 
One with it, a breath blown
Into wind to leave no trace. To feel
This oneness at times startles me,
 
And I open my eyes to ensure myself
I still have limbs, my hands’
Whiteness waves before my face
 
Like a birch tree, but that day,
What I saw when the fear
Elided with exaltation,
 
Was the skeleton
Of that dead cormorant I’d have
Swum clear through, my shoulder
 
Caught in its wings, my face scraped
Against its yet still slightly
Feathered skull, eyes hollowed,
 
Filled, to the farthest point of the water.
 

 

 

THE SWAN

On the first night my baby was not in my body
she lay in a plastic basinet next to me in my room.
Bundled, she looked like a sweet date. I lay in
the pale lit room and I traced her features with my
eyes, sketching her in my memory, recognizing
that this is what it means to make a person; it will
be someone you’ve never seen before and would
change into anything to protect. I reached my hand to 
the plastic’s rim and lay it gently on her chest, through
the blanket, through the hours that would complete
her first rotation of the sun. I understood from now
on I would be in direct competition with every harm
that lives in the world. I would grow great wings
invisible to any but her and me, and I would cover
her when something terrible neared and I would hiss.
The clock on the wall also became something more
real to me. Until then, I had been waiting for her to
come. Now every second was another of her movements
away from my body, away from my blood which I
could control what fed her, what reached her. 
Nine, now. Different from me in ways I never would have
expected. A scientist to my artist. As well, a keeper
of her own worlds, always delighted when someone
accepts her for who she is. And every day I drop her
off at school, I watch her confidence, her knowing of
which bell means what class or order, a familiarity with 
a classmate who opens her door. Her asymmetrical
haircut, which she wanted, is an expression of who 
she is. Everything has been more real since she arrived,
every danger, every joy, which is why when you see her
you will also see the single white feather I have tucked
into the back pocket of her fashion jeans, why, when you
speak to her, you always feel something fierce nearby, 
great wings, a shadow, a spell I re-hiss every damn day. 

 


Excerpt from a memoir about grandparents' experience in a P.O.W. camp in China in WW2:

 

The Dawn of  History


Preface
This is the story of a story.
My grandparents, with my then baby father and uncle--were interned by the Japanese during World War II. This story is a part of the war that was left out of America textbooks due to the treaty between the U.S. and Japan following the atomic bombs. The trade-off for vaporizing human life was the suppression of story. The result of this suppression is a very quick moment in my adolescence when the stories that I had grown up hearing were left unreflected by my high school history book and also teacher. It wasn’t a traumatic moment. I might have been too stunned to be traumatized. What I felt was a split, though, between the world of history as it is told by books and how it is told by families. 
Stories survive against silences. There is nothing inherent in stories to guarantees their survival. A generation can end and its stories with them. This worried me, and the worry grew into an obsession the result of which this book is. There have been times when I have gone so deeply into breaking this story open that my mother has confiscated my materials and urged me to do something normal like go out on a date. I’ve traveled across the world twice in pursuit of it, and I’ve talked to countless strangers. I have learned, though, that stories open and are not made to be cracked or broken into. As I have grown into my forties, the story has grown as well rather mysteriously. It emerges into my own story at surprising times as the code of silence slips farther into the past and into its own silence. Now, I have a community with which to remember my grandmother’s story, a context in which to view it, and even a museum to visit and safely honor.
My grandparents weren’t victims of genocide, only history and geography. While accounts of Japanese inhumanity might abound in stories of the prison camps for captures Allied soldiers, at my family’s prison camp, as I have come to refer to it as others refer to summer homes lost in the Depression, The Courtyard of the Happy Way, the Japanese soldiers were more like hostile property managers of a 2000 acres housing district with no running water, little food, barbed wire, and electric fences. 




Excerpt from the novel on the same topic:

 

The room is long and white. Again: white. The cleanliness was almost insulting, corroborating her sense of being out of place, of trespassing in a world that didn’t belong to her. She heard her breathing, and the breathing, like her pulse, felt like something about to leave her. She was weak and broken. She could, at last, accept this, accept herself. There was no point to pretending any longer. It was almost time to die. It wasn’t going to be difficult. Her body and spirit were connected by so little now, the way that the past three years had hacked away at that tiny bond, hacking with every blade they could find, hacking with impossibility, with violence, with strangeness, with words, with guns, with hunger, with denial of everything that makes a life feel worth living. They’d taken away her health and beauty, her sons, her marriage, her world. They’d taken away her taste for food, her energy for laughter, her ability to walk and breathe and go to the bathroom without great sums of pain. Let them take this last little part of her, her breath.
            The nurse laid Grace’s wrist back down upon the white blanket. Blinding. The white was blinding, or it was another headache brought on by the high blood pressure they could not bring under control. The nurse wrote numbers in a notebook, the notebook of Grace, the story of her last days on earth, here, bound in white like angels, bound in a bed with a view of a single palm tree, evidence of life, of air, of movement beyond this room. The nurse smiled down at Grace then leaned over her to gently straighten the pillow. Grace saw the gold cross dangle from a thin gold chain around the young woman’s brown throat. The nurse’s tenderness soothed her, as it was little actions such as this that restored in Grace some sense of a world gentler than the one she had been in: a world of cleanliness and extravagance, of white curtains and pillows. Of comfort and medicine and quiet and notebooks with pens and pencils that worked, of fans that moved air around the spacious room, of spacious rooms, all of this the décor of normalness, of wealth and wellness even if everybody in the room was sick and about to die. They would all die well if they died here. They would die with their names in little notebooks, written down by a hand that for however long Grace had been here had written something about her every single day, that little golden cross moving across her throat with every letter and word.
            In the air strained a blend a camphor and sampaguita with its horrible sweetness Grace has loved as a child when her father, mother, and brothers Grover and Jack and sister Evelyn moved to Manila from London. It made sense she had returned to Manila to die, she needed this scent with her for it was the smell of her happiest days, her longest afternoons, her most brilliant mornings of mangoes and water chilled with spearmint encased in ice-cubes. The sampaguita covered her in memory as she faded into sleep she half-expected to be death and accepted it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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