Sunday, November 28, 2010


that turpentine stench first
filled my nostrils very young. she
stood with an apron in the laundry
room; pausing, standing back, knitting her brow

each of us sitting for at least
one portrait. she tried water,
then charcoal, but really loved
oil. burnt umber, prussian blue, sap green

viridian. she said, we try not to use too much
black or white. those colors don't really
exist in the world. try to show the hues using
different colors; it's more interesting and true

she was jealous of those pastes.
watching pbs, sucking her teeth: that's
an expensive color! so much that
christmas memories are filled

with small boxes holding tubes
cadmium yellow, light; van dyck brown; payne's gray
each year, more tubes and tubes
it felt like she never had enough.

in my house, over the piano she made me keep playing as a child
hangs her last oil
the boldest, most dynamic piece of landscape
she'd ever painted

subtle, muted, green mixed with violet, the trees almost
mourn with me, the loss of their maker
when we cleaned out her things
a whole room filled with easels

sketchbooks, unused yarn, fabric scraps, calligraphy brushes
ink stones, rice paper, photographs
and a green tackle box filled with
paint tubes

no one else wanted the supplies
so i took them. sullen.
i don't know how to paint with oils
i've kept them in this house for almost nine years

meanwhile, i take a job in an art department
where every other person is a painter
longing for more supplies
i remain jealous of those tubes just like her

but then, three weeks ago my not-supervisor's
sister drops dead suddenly
no one knows why
she flies across the country

to tend to body and mind
arrives at work three days later
red-eyed with smokey hair, says:
where else am i going to go?

not-supervisor is a painter
a very successful one, until life happened
and she had to support kids; family
she specializes in a certain symmetry; she's not

picky about paint. but she uses
a lot of it
today, i sort through my work space
find that green tackle box

smelling of the turpentine that
wafts through laundry room memories
i will never sit a portrait for mom again.
so i find a clean bag

place each paint tube in it
write down the name of each color
wrap them up, nice and neat
for transport in the morning

i hope not-supervisor will use every one
to remember her sister
so i can let go of my mother
and more things can be made

again, and again, and again.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


london was near a beach.

i was walking along this beach with a flamboyant man of chinese descent who was apparently my father.

the beach was strewn with detritus.

but that didn't matter; i was searching for something. what it was, i cannot recall.

upon a hill, we saw a structure. it was old, and at first, seemed abandoned. we passed by the structure, arguing. but something about the structure brought us back--maybe we heard a sound or i needed to use the toilet.

we walked up the hill, my "father" swishing behind me. when we arrived at the building, we quickly recognized it was a church. i looked into the main chapel and scoffed: why build the pulpit facing the sea? the congregation should face the ocean, so the sermon will feel like it is rising from the blue deep!

we walked through the rest of the church and found it was, in fact, full.

we turned the corner and there were many elderly people, almost entirely afro-caribbean, desi, or chinese. my "father" began to smile widely and spoke with a man who had a heavy jamaican accent. everyone was smiling at me.

he said: yes, yes. we welcome all kinds here. well. every church will say that. but look here--we have every shade of black and brown here; some with arthritis, some not. the young ones, they are upstairs. some of them are confused, searching for something. and some of them have pink hair.

i understood that pink hair meant queer.

he continued: but the reason all shades of black and brown and confused and pink-haired come here is because we know--it is a tough thing to be brown in this world--

the man and my "father" looked directly into my eyes--

but some of the people who are brown also have pink hair--

his eyes were full of pathos, and my "father" replied--

and that's even tougher.


i woke up.

this was the first time in a few weeks that i woke up and did not feel depressed. i felt loved. and determined. as if the ancestors understood the struggle i am facing as they were looking on with loving eyes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

my house

in manila
there is a building
built for an international festival
by the over zealous wife of a dictator

in their haste, they
built too fast
sealing bodies of builders
in the too-wet foundation of the edifice

now, the building lies empty
ignored, forgotten
a tomb commemorating
the hubris of megalomaniacs

in my city where
tech boom meets econo-bust
whole neighborhoods are built
in weeks

they look prim, proper, perfectly
middle class. humming with the rhythms
of aspiration and need.
only during harsh weather

do their owners listen carefully
to the paper-thin walls
and the winds threatening to pull up
the homes from the earth

when the two towers fell
and they took away the rubble
what was left was a mammoth of a

whole structures
never stand
without deep roots
routes to strength and certainty

but digging is hard; it takes
strong backs, persistence
sometimes we can guess map what veins of dirt we will hit
but mostly, everything is a surprise

sand, rock, loam, old refrigerators
brick, shale, the skeleton of a long-lost possom
gas pockets, pipes, geysers,

the deeper we dig those holes
the stronger the house becomes
but the more we must unearth
the more secrets and surprises we must witness

for with height comes depth
just like how we don't listen through the chatter
but the strongest voices are borne
out of the stillest silence

so is the gentlest love
borne sometimes from solitude
or the ripest fruit
borne from rot and decay

my house, so loyal, so warm
has had cracks in its walls from the day
i moved in
the foundation sits on sand

in this house, though, i have built a home
with tenderness and thought
that has weathered many storms
i take those cracks as testament

to the hope i hold in my heart
and now, i must dig deep
to build, to rebuild, to withstand the ever-coming wind
the digging can be rough

lasting until the wee hours
full of tears and whispered screams
refuse of the past
that can still bear us fruit

i see those suburban houses
prim and sweet; sometimes
they seem to be perfect
but i know

i would rather get my hands dirty
in the soil beneath my feet
to build and rebuild with purpose
than watch perceived perfection

blow away with the slightest
breeze; my house
will always be strong
digging deep

into the depths of the soul