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.

we can never go back


Nokyoung Xayasane

I went back once
to visit my old elementary school.

I remember the wide fields,
but there was only a small patch of grass.

I remember the brick and mortar
and all the rooms filled with light.

But now nothing.
The school had burnt down years ago.

There was no stray brick in sight,
no pole with a flag waving in the wind.

I didn’t get out of the car.
There was nothing there to see.

But there were those
endless golden days,

those Easter egg hunts,
margarine sandwiches in the late afternoon,

books upon books in the library,
messy high and side ponytails.

There was that boy crush
who finally held your hand.

There was a girl once who ran through
the fields, laughing.

There was that feeling
of needing nothing more than what we had.

That’s how it is,
the past, a dream we’ve made up.

We can never go back
no matter how hard we try.

language would never be a barrier for her

Thailand, 1984

Thailand, 1984

the things she carried
Nokyoung Xayasane

I remember what my mother told me
when I was eight years old.
One day, we decided to exchange
a Super Nintendo console for the
one that came with the Donkey Kong game.

In the Zellers parking lot,
she gave me the box to carry.
I walked with that box in my tiny hands —
my mother by my side.
The box grew heavier with each step.
And the closer we got to the electronics section,
the heavier it became.

Meh, I said,
(‘Meh’ is Lao for mom)
Meh, I said, can you carry it for me?
I gave her my most helpless look.
She looked at me then and said,
(‘Da deep’ means ‘little eyes’)
you’re just afraid.

And yes, I suppose I was.
We walked up to the Zellers employee —
a shaggy-haired fella
who stood behind the counter
organizing double A batteries.

My mother stood by my side, wordless.
She didn’t speak English that well,
but even at eight, I knew that language
would never be a barrier for her.
I want to get the one with Donkey Kong, I whispered.

Afterwards, we walked outside to the car.
The sky was this purple and pink colour —
the same sky I’d paint in my art class years later.
I held the new system in my hands —
this one included the game.
I played Donkey Kong all summer long,
and if you were wondering,
I can lift that console quite easily now.

(June 2015)