Home for Christmas

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,
again.
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.

and I can see your light

and_I_can_see_your_light

Heal
Nokyoung Xayasane

when I was younger I clung to you
the roots of a tree gripping the riverbank
shifting waters could not move us
enveloped by mosquito netting and protected
while balmy breezes blew within a decrepit shanty
the cracks would not let in the pain

shards of light reflecting mirror side up
bruised forearm, broken finger
I cannot find you in your dark
hidden by your rage, I search for you

the splashing, laughing pool
flipping through the pages of a torn photo album
you call out to me from your hiding place
a quiet voice beneath the fists
loving pain, gentle brutality
comforting violence

sometimes, glimpses of you emerge
falling rain, glimmering laughter
and I hope for your light

my image in your eyes
my movements in your stance
quiet rage
shifting below
whispering madness seeps into light
mosquito netting, broken finger
morning grass, afternoon tag
and I remember you
as you were, as you are now

soft folds of a blanket
and the radio hums within the hut
hammock swaying
cradled in the softness, protected in the netting

soothing cooling
ointment glides on the burn
healing tissue replacing cut
a soft scar in the shadow of forgiveness
and I can see your light

(2009)

you call out to me from your hiding place

Lao New Year, the water ceremony

Lao New Year, the water ceremony

So Father’s Day is tomorrow. It made me think of a poem I wrote for my dad when I was 22 years old.

Seven years ago!* Crazy.

Last weekend, I celebrated my 29th birthday. Birthdays make me feel pretty nostalgic. Well, if I’m being truthful, anything makes me nostalgic: the melody of a song, the way the air smells after the rain, or any number of overwrought poetic imagery that I won’t bore you with, but birthdays really do it for me. It’s a time to reflect and look back on what’s happened and to try to move on.

Now that I’m a year older and with Father’s Day around the corner, it made me think about my dad. My dad and I have had a perplexing relationship. I remember a time when I thought he knew everything. I remember feeling like he was my protector. I remember feeling safe with him.

But then things changed.

Our relationship began to unravel after me, my mom, and dad immigrated to Canada. It’s only in looking back that I realize the turmoil he was going through. He was a highly educated young man from Laos, but in Canada he was no one. He couldn’t speak the language. He felt like an outsider. He felt like less than a person.

Sadly, he took his frustrations out on the ones he loved: my mom and me. Although I don’t condone what happened between me and him and my mom, I’ve tried over the years to understand why our family life was filled with verbal and physical abuse.

I know my dad has made great strides to change himself. He’s now a pastor at the church I grew up in when we arrived in Canada. I’m really proud of him and every time he stands at the podium to speak, I can’t help but remember the man who had once been my protector and who had made me feel safe all those years ago.

Heal, Nokyoung Xayasane

when I was younger I clung to you
the roots of a tree gripping the riverbank
shifting waters could not move us
enveloped by mosquito netting and protected
while balmy breezes blew within a decrepit shanty
the cracks would not let in the pain

shards of light reflecting mirror side up
bruised forearm, broken finger
I cannot find you in your dark
hidden by your rage, I search for you

the splashing, laughing pool
flipping through the pages of a torn photo album
you call out to me from your hiding place
a quiet voice beneath the fists
loving pain, gentle brutality
comforting violence

sometimes, glimpses of you emerge
falling rain, glimmering laughter
and I hope for your light

my image in your eyes
my movements in your stance
quiet rage
shifting below
whispering madness seeps into light
mosquito netting, broken finger
morning grass, afternoon tag
and I remember you
as you were, as you are now

soft folds of a blanket
and the radio hums within the hut
hammock swaying
cradled in the softness, protected in the netting

soothing cooling
ointment glides on the burn
healing tissue replacing cut
a soft scar in the shadow of forgiveness
and I can see your light

(2009)

*Update: I just realized I wrote this poem when I was 25 years old and not 22 years old. I wrote a similar poem about my dad at 22, which had a less hopeful tone to it. The one above was written during a Creative Writing course while I was in University.

I glimpse through bewildered eyes

My mom’s birthday was two days ago. We went out for her birthday lunch on Saturday and my sister mentioned she had found my old autobiography that I had written in grade 7, I think.

She told me there were two sections that caught her eye. One section was about my ideal sister and one was about my ideal mother.

mom_birthday_collage

Homage to my hero (Photo credit: nokxayasane/Instagram)

I don’t remember much about what I wrote, but I do remember writing that my mom is my real-life hero. It always puzzled me when kids would say their heroes were movie stars or athletes. How do you know if they’re even good people, I had thought.

When I came across Jeannette Armstrong’s “Threads of Old Memory,” I couldn’t help but think about my mom and my family. It reminded me of the battles we had with each other, the struggles we all faced in coping with a new country, and the aftermath of my family’s arrival in Canada.

My father, my mother, and I had arrived in Cambridge, Ontario, from a refugee camp in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, (where I was born). This was our chance at a better life, but it was a rocky road, to say the least.

We faced many hardships, but in the end, I knew my parents loved me. Their love and sacrifice is something I will always cherish.

Threads of Old Memory, Jeannette Armstrong

Speaking to newcomers in their language is dangerous
for when I speak
history is a dreamer
empowering thought
from which I awaken the imaginings of the past
bringing the sweep and surge of meaning
coming from a place
rooted in the memory of loss
experienced in ceremonies
wrenched from the minds of a people
whose language spoke only harmony
through a language
meant to overpower
to overtake
in skillfully crafted words
moving towards surrender
leaving in its swirling wake
only those songs
hidden
cherished
protected
the secret singing of which
I glimpse through bewildered eyes
an old lost world
of astounding beauty

When I speak
I attempt to bring together
with my hands
gossamer thin threads of memory
thoughts from the underpinnings of understanding
words seeped in age
slim
barely visible strands of harmony
stretching across the chaos brought into the world
through words
shaped as sounds in air
meaning made physical
changers of the world
carriers into the place of things
from a place of magic
the underside of knowing
the origination place
a pure place
silent
wordless
from where thoughts I choose
silently transform into words
I speak and
powerfully become actions
becomes memory in someone
I become different memories to different people
different stories in the retelling of my place
I am the dreamer
the choice maker
the word speaker
I speak in a language of words
formed of the actions of the past
words that become the sharing
the collective knowing
the links that become a people
the dreaming that becomes a history
the calling forth of memory
I am the weaver of memory thread
twining past to future
I am the artist
the storyteller
the singer
from the known and familiar
pushing out into darkness
dreaming splinters together
the coming to knowing

When I speak
I sing a song called up through ages
of carefully crafted rhythm
of a purpose close to the wordless
in a coming to this world
from the cold and hunger spaces in the heart
through the desolate and lost places of the mind
to this stark and windswept mountain top
I search for the sacred words
spoken serenely in the gaps between memory
the lost places of history
pieces mislaid
forgotten or stolen
muffled by violence
splintered by evil
when languages collide in mid air
when past and present explode in chaos
and the imaginings of the past
rip into the dreams of the future

When I speak
I choose the words gently
asking the whys
dangerous words
in the language of the newcomers
words releasing unspeakable grief
for all that is lost
dispelling lies in the retelling
I choose threads of truth
that in its telling cannot be hidden
and brings forward
old words that heal
moving to a place
where a new song begins
a new ceremony
through medicine eyes I glimpse a world
that cannot be stolen or lost
only shared
shaped by new words
joining precisely to form old patterns
a song of stars
glittering against an endless silence