the bridge


the bridge
Nokyoung Xayasane

there’s a bridge
with wires of glowing red
which stretches out
across the water

in the night
it glows
like red filaments

That’s beautiful,
I say
They’re there to prevent people
from jumping, you say

the bridge shines
ever brighter
red glowing filaments
in the night

where life leads you


the poet
Nokyoung Xayasane

I ate some cheesecake
and woke up from my midday nap.
this is where you’ve led me.
I remember one time
I was introduced to someone.
I told them
I worked in publishing,
in marketing.
She’s a poet,
the person said,
as if to validate my existence.
A poet?
But validating?

How about a school teacher,
or a welder.
At least one is moulding minds,
and another is moulding steel.

What could be more foolish
and romantic and useless
than a poet.
A feeble body and a vibrant mind.
What are the uses of these
metaphors and images
if not to build something up
only to tear it down.

A poet.
Nah, I work in publishing.

a love lost to the open sea


Nokyoung Xayasane

I wake up in your bed
to watch the sun rise
over the water,
at the water’s edge.
You are there
beside me.

In my mind,
I remember
when I rested my head
on his shoulder,
when I laid my hand
in his lap.
I exhaled ever so slowly
I inhaled ever so deeply
and we knew
what it was
to know someone.

In our bodies,
I remember
the love
of a new morning
when a day began
beside him,
his gentle breathing
filling the room
before light
quietly begins its tiptoe.

The sky,
it begins to light up,
a sliver along the edge
of the world emerging
along the plane of time.
I look back at you
from the foot of the bed,
but I can’t see you.
I squint
but I can’t see you.
You are hidden
in my memories
of that love,
that love
that was once lost
to the open sea.

once i was young


once i was young
Nokyoung Xayasane

once i was young
and didn’t know any better
i stood inside a photo
that looked out
into the world
vibrant with sound and colour

i held my tongue
and i kept quiet
i stood where they told me to stand
i sat where they asked me to sit
i didn’t make a sound
not a single sound

one day i woke up
everyone around me had left
they were busy with their own lives
there was only the sound
of the tap running
and this sound
this incessant sound
this chant

no one will remember your name

i stepped out of the photo
and the sound
it was deafening
the voices
they were calling to me
calling to each other
the colours pierced
pinpoints of light
faces distorted in anguish
hands open bleeding and hopeful

i asked the noises to stop
i wanted to turn back
to the place that was safe
where i was told how to stand
and when to speak

but there was no going back
the photo had been lost
in drawer somewhere
in a dusty attic somewhere

I turned to the colours
their painful sheen
I shielded my eyes
with my upraised hand
I held my ears shut
but that symphony of sound
that torturous beauty
could still be heard

I opened my mouth
and I spoke words quietly
nonsense words
words for the sake of speaking

suddenly, the words became
the phrases
the sentences
the paragraphs
a narrative of my life
for all lives that have been
and will ever be

I began to shout
I shouted those words
I shouted that narrative
and I’ve been shouting ever since

what we hold tight


The Toronto Christmas Market
Nokyoung Xayasane

The lights are connected to each other like bridges between point A and point B. They hang above the Toronto Christmas Market. I see them in the distance. Yellow lights alive in the night.

I make my way to the main entrance but then decide to wait in the line. The line moves quickly. There are people wearing red Rudolph noses. People stand in groups waiting for their friends to arrive.

There’s music playing. You try to walk about and all around you are toques and scarves and the steam of apple cider and the sweetness of hot chocolate. At the centre of the market, an evergreen occupies the space like a bejewelled grandfather, wise and beautiful and silent. There are flashes of light and smiling faces as they stand for photos, trying to capture a feeling, a moment, when the air was cold but the heart was warm.

We decide after a few hours and some moments standing under heat lamps and inside shops, that we’ve all had enough Christmas cheer. We need a warm place to sit down. We need a drink and something hearty in our bellies.

The problem and the beauty of Toronto is choice. Where to go? We decide to find a place near the St. Lawrence Market and hail a cab. The traffic moves at a snail’s pace. We walk around and check out a few places. My toes have begun to thaw. The air around is still biting cold.

Eventually we happen upon a Spanish restaurant. I haven’t been to a Spanish restaurant before and neither have they. It looks fancy. But I’ve found that in Toronto, as in life, it doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing, it matters only how you present yourself.

There’s a long wooden bar. The lights are dim. A group of four is about to leave and we decide to have a drink at the bar while we wait. A moment later the table opens up and I slide into the booth. I look at the menu. It reads Barsa Taberna on the cover. The four of us decide to share the paella, a classic Spanish dish.

Our voices are raised and cheerful. I look to my left at a couple whose date has been highjacked by another couple. Perhaps the second couple have tired of speaking to each other, and they find relief in two new pairs of listening ears.

I look to the bar in front of me. There are two women who look like they’re having a night out, away from the kids and away from their partners. Everyone is beautifully dressed. A man sits at the bar, drinking a beer.

I look to the faces across from me. The four of us laugh. We share stories. We share a meal. How did you two meet, I ask them. They smile and tell me their story. Outside the snow begins to fall, specks of white, lit up in lamp light. The buildings reach up into the sky, into a darkness that hugs the city like a long-lost friend.

I raise my hand to brush the hair from my face. The napkin almost falls from my lap but I catch it just in time to hear a knife clatter to the ground. We all laugh. I hold that laughter in my mind as it already begins to slip away, as it is already the past.

Years later I’ll remember that night. Even then I knew, that laughter and that happiness, they are what connect us, they are what we hold tight when we have nothing to hold on to at the end of our lives.

in summer


in summer
Nokyoung Xayasane

In summer,
we go to the beaches:
Scarborough Bluffs,
Hanlan’s Point,
Toronto Island.

There is a child
building a sandcastle
by the water,
a flag flutters
in the wind.

We are lying
on towels
with trail mixes
and avocado and bacon
hidden pale ales
and ciders.

I remember
turning away
from the voices discussing
Romantic literature,
poetry and Hemingway,
big data and the evolution of music.

I remember getting up
and walking to the water’s edge.
The inlet of water surrounded
by rocks and seagulls,
the sky
stretching up
the light glaring off the water.

I walked into the water,
a slow march.
I took a breath
and I dove in.
The cold spread
throughout my body.
I floated on my back
with the sky above me
blue and endless and glaring.
Summer will go on forever.

I heard the sound of people
at the shore
and I knew I had to go back.
I left the water and I followed
their voices.
The coldness had slipped away,
the sun was warm
above me,
and for a brief moment
I forgot
that at one point
I had not wanted
to turn back.

Are you happy?

it is like this with love_black and white

Are you happy?
Nokyoung Xayasane

I have these dreams still —
two years later.
You are pushing a pram,
are four small babies,
one on top
of each other.

I wanted to know
if you were happy.
You seemed happy,
pushing that pram
along the roadside.
Where was he?
I wondered.

Are you happy, I asked him.
I’m happy, he said.

In another dream,
the two of you
were at a wedding.
You were laughing,
and he was brushing
a lock of hair
from your face.
All our friends were there.
Everyone was happy.
The only difference
was you and me.

Once, I stood there
in your place.
I was laughing
and he was brushing
the hair from my face.
Our friends
were all around us.
Everyone was happy.

Are you happy, I ask you.
You push the pram away
down the roadside.
In the distance,
I see him.
He is waiting for you.
I wait for you
to look back.
I am standing there,

Home for Christmas


Home for Christmas
Nokyoung Xayasane

I’m home for Christmas,
back in the city where I once
wore track pants with socks
that were fashionably
pulled up at the pant hem.
I’m back in the place
where one summer I bought
a whole tub of
buttered almond ice-cream
and read Sweet Valley High books
until I got a headache—
from the reading
or maybe just from the sugar rush.

There was a shopping plaza
where a boy on a bicycle
spit in my face
and my mom told me to
toughen up.
There was the local mall
where I rode an electric horse
for one loonie.
It moved at a snail’s pace,
but for me,
it flew.
We drive past
my friend’s house
where we had band practice—
an all-girl band.
I sang
while Courtney played
the drums
and Nikki played the guitar.
There is my old elementary school,
a field of grass
where I once believed that
the world ended and began.

I wake up the first morning
back home
with my mom’s black figure
standing in the darkness,
the light from the garish red drapes
illuminating her silhouette.
I am half asleep
and not at all surprised.
You have to try and
sleep without the fan running
she tells me.
This is a thing for her—
my need for white noise.
I may pass this neurosis
down to my children,
I may never find someone
who’ll sleep beside me
in my marriage bed,
who’ll be able to stand
the incessant whirl of a
long-stemmed fan.
Stop this, Mom,
I say.
I turn the fan back on
and fall back asleep in
my childhood bed.

My parents’ house is
full of Jesus,
Jesus on the walls
with blue and pink lights
emanating from his heart area,
the Last Supper strategically
placed by the dining room table.
I don’t know if I believe in God
or gods in general.
This shakes my mom to the core.
How much of what we
believe is a form of rebellion?
My sister trims my hair
and my mom is pleased
with the length.
It’s nice to keep it long.
I bury the desire
to chop it all off,
How much of what we do
is a form of rebellion?

Also gold, the place is full of gold,
full of my medals and my
graduation certificate
and my brother’s
and my sister’s as well.
The walls are full of our photos
of when we were young
and I was fresh off the boat
or still in the boat
or about to go on the boat—
an aggrieved and unimpressed
expression on my face.
I want to know if
our cat
is coming with us,
or not.
My mom says the cat
will meet us in Canada.

My mom is worried that we’re hungry.
I’ve just stopped eating, Mom,
I’m okay
but what’s another bowl of pho
or congee?
Congee is our chicken noodle soup.
It’s what I make when
I feel down or sick.
My dad wants me to fix
something on his phone.
“It’s God’s plan” is voiced
at least five times in conversation.
I fix the clock on the oven
and on the microwave,
I teach my parents
how to use Netflix,
and I decipher the contents
of endless bottles.
My dad writes the translations
down in black marker.

On the first night back,
we gather in the living room,
a place with more chairs
than people.
Our Christmas tree is decorated
with ribbons and cards and ornaments,
there are outdoor lights
at the hem of the tree—no matter,
no one will notice.
We watch Home Alone 2:
Lost in New York
Kevin is left behind on Christmas.
How lucky, I think.
And how lonely.
I suddenly wake up
with the smell of apple pie
in the air.
I’ve fallen asleep on the couch
and my parents sit near me,
my brother and his girlfriend
close by.
My dad has also fallen asleep.
Someone hands me a piece of pie
and I fall back asleep.
The TV has been turned off,
and everyone
is sitting or lying down
in the same room,
our breathing measured,
slow and even.
The snow falls outside
in the blustery winter night,
it falls outside this place
where my world once
ended and began.

an endless winter


Nokyoung Xayasane

This city
covered in snow,
and I am blanketed
by your left arm.
I feel
the pressure
and weight of you,
a heavy bough
of evergreen
laden with white
for you,
our legs slide along
the snowy rivets
of my duvet,
white folds
where snow angels
play and pray.

There are these
rolling hills
of white
frosted ice
on my windowpane.
There are these
when you
press your
face against
my shoulder,
these indentations
that disappear
with the new
snow fall.

I breath
you in,
crisp clean snow
falling in the night
in the blinding light,
and your mouth
it is against my neck
and my lip
it is against
your brow,
your eyes
closed tight
to the white winter

Will it always be like this,
this endless winter,
only whispering
between us,
and the quiet giggling
of children
with a secret
to tell.

Next winter,
will you be here
with me?
Yes, you say.
I ask a second time.
Yes, you say.
I believe you
because I want to
and not
because it’s true.

a thousand stars exploding


Nokyoung Xayasane

I’ll say goodbye
to the skyline first
the buildings of glass and steel
the square orange lights
in all the windows
lit up at night

I’ll say goodbye
to the streetcars next
the happy drivers
and muggy morning commute

farewell to the grocery store lineups
and the sound of children’s laughter
the heat from an open vent
and that first morning’s light

but most of all
I’ll say goodbye
to that feeling
that feeling
of a thousand stars exploding
in the sky
as I walk down a street
and enter a crowd
a nameless person
who was once full
of possibility