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.

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,

the politics of female friendships

it is like this with love_black and white

the politics of female friendships
Nokyoung Xayasane

If I were a dude,
and my friend and I were having
a disagreement,
if we were upset with each other,
maybe we would wrestle
or punch each other in the face,
and then we would be cool.
We’d shake hands.
Everything would be fine.

But I’m not a dude.
I’m a woman.
In a female fight,
there will be one person
who will deny the tension,
maybe both do.
You actually look a lot
better in that dress
than you did last summer.

That’s a blow to the chin
if I ever felt one.

Girls become obsessed
with other women.
Like, they’re in love with them
and then the next day,
they can burn in hell
for all you care.

Here’s a bit of
unsolicited advice:
If you want to enter
the inner sanctum
of the inner circle,
you have to ingratiate
yourself to the queen bee.
Her minions fear and love her
like a ruling tyrant.

Girls will use other girls
against each other, especially
if it involves a boy.
Three-way calling has
led to wars of epic proportions.
He’s with her?
That’s a punch to the gut
if I ever felt one.

And whatever you do
beware of the major faux pas
of becoming close friends
with someone
another friend
holds dear.
I’ve worked really hard to invest
in these friendships.

That’s a punch in the gut
if I ever felt one.
You’ll feel like you stole
their boyfriend.
Whatever you do,
Never ever
“steal” a “friend’s” boyfriend
even if they’ve broken up
even if they’re on a break.
That’s akin to inviting
one friend out for coffee
and excluding the other,
that’s friendship suicide,
that’s the politics of female friendships.

Sometimes you’ll think a girl hates you,
and she probably does,
but she probably also loves you, too.
One day, you swear
that bitch
is dead to you,
then the next day, you’ll be sharing
a dessert.
Everything’s fine,
just fine.
The politics of female friendships.
I’d rather be a brain surgeon.

from the men who used to love me


The actress
Nokyoung Xayasane

In a city of millions
you decided to date
my ex-boyfriend.
I guess
that’s to be expected
from an actress,
criminal lawyer,

So you caught the
Leprechaun and all his
lucky charms?
You started seeing
each other in
He’s right on schedule.

He waited a solid
two weeks
before moving on?
He’s right on schedule.

You two weren’t
exclusive and official
until October?
He’s right on schedule.

You went on vacation
nine months later?
He’s right on schedule.

I hope you know
that before the
is over,
he’ll already have his eye
on someone new.
He doesn’t know
how to be alone.
His mistake.

Maybe I shouldn’t have
him so well.
My mistake, friend.
He’s good
but not great.
I’m sure you’ll
find that out
in your own time,
which I can only
assume will be
within the year.
Your mistake.

I’ll make sure I don’t
advertise my
next partner
so openly
just in case
you needed
more validation
from the men
who used
to love me.

but we kept dancing anyways


This will always last for us,
Nokyoung Xayasane

So much
was happening.
Did we even know?
We did.
But we kept dancing
We just kept
dancing anyways.

And I thought,
we will never be
this young
and this beautiful
and this free

So we just kept
We just kept

This will
always last for us,
I said
I didn’t believe it.

Nothing lasts.

So I just kept
I just kept

The music,
it stopped.
I ran
to catch
the 1:30 train,
and I thought,
This will
always last for us,
I didn’t believe it.

Nothing lasts.

So I just kept
I just kept

And I remembered
you were dancing
you were dancing, too.

You too

And we kept
We just kept
dancing anyways.

You will look lit from within, and lit from without

My not-so-secret garden

My not-so-secret garden

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dear Ava,

I’ve been thinking about you lately. I remember sitting across from you at the diner, and you were full of questions for me. You were confused. You were unsure of what to do next. You didn’t know if you should stay with him or if you should leave. You looked at me with your large, lost, wide eyes. I could see an earnestness in you. You wanted to do the right thing, but you didn’t know where to start; you didn’t know where to begin.

Here’s what I want to tell you.

If you decide to take this path, to leave him, and to go out into the world on your own, it will be very, very difficult.

But the thing you will learn is that the difficult part is not making the change or of ending things. The difficult part is what happens afterwards. I’m not going to lie to you. It will be painful. Excruciatingly so. You will have memories of how you used to be together, like how he ate his pasta, or how he sometimes cocked his head to the side when he listened to you speak. You’ll remember those unassuming moments when you stood in front of the bathroom mirror and he placed his hand on the small of your back. There will come a time when you stand in front of that same mirror and you’ll remember the touch of his hand and you’ll feel the absence of it, and it will batter you open; it will batter you wide open. But it will not destroy you.

I want you to remember this.

You have friends and family who you can talk to you. They’ll take you out for dinner, laugh and cry with you; you will feel loved. Sometimes people will do the smallest thing like save you the last bit of honey for your tea, and you will feel your heart fill. Sometimes it will be almost more than you can possibly bear. But you will bear it. Just those pure simple acts of kindness from people — it will batter you open.

And sometimes when you go for walks, the sky will light up with a light so harsh at times and so beautiful, and the wind will pick up, people will walk by laughing and talking and you will be so far away from them but so close to them at the same, you will feel as if you are part of everything. It will be painful. It will hurt so much. Your heart will ache and ache.

Maybe you’ll see a small sign at the edge of a park that reads “nature trail.” You’ll walk past it, and the entrance will dip into an almost surreal world. You will walk these intertwining paths almost every day. Perhaps there will be a babbling stream, shallow water and rocks, a wooden bridge, and endless leaves of yellows and reds will pirouette from the sky. Perhaps the ground will be blanketed with autumn leaves and foliage that crunch beneath your boots. It will be your not-so-secret garden.

You may even look out over an expanse of trees, or you may be sheltered within a canopy and the light, the light, will come streaming down, and you will feel breathless, alive; you will feel time moving; you will feel the movement of time and how random and passing and fleeting and beautiful it all is; and your heart will ache; it will just ache and ache.

But then gradually, without you noticing it, the pain will lessen. The memory of his hand on the small of your back will not rip you open. The song that played while you cooked pasta together will not make you ripe with pain; it will not double you over. You’ll remember how sometimes he would say your name aloud and the sound would make you stop short. You’ll remember the look he gave you of reprimand and of kindness. His compassion would have floored you. That memory, that look, that single word — your name spoken aloud by someone who loved you — it will no longer batter you open.

Soon you will feel a lightness. The memories will reoccur less often. The dreams will wane. You will wake less often in the night; you will stop seeking solace in other people. You will not drink so much. One day, you will feel fine. Just fine. And the initial lightness will stretch; it will stretch into hours. Then into days, then into weeks. Then months, then years. And when you’ve finally learned to be alone, when you finally enjoy your own company and you wouldn’t have it any other way, you’ll meet someone new. And that person will make you laugh again. He will make you laugh until you cry. He will make your skin feel as if it were made of tissue paper. Transparent and open and light. Whatever was hiding deep inside of you will rise to the surface. You will look lit from within, and lit from without. That’s what love will do to you; it will transform you. You will be beauty intensified.

And all that has passed will seem like an apparition; it all will seem like a story you concocted, a story you told yourself to help you fall asleep. And you will be happy, you will be so utterly happy.

I send you all my love as always. And all my hope.

Your friend,

letter to a lost friend

Letter to a Lost Friend, Barbara Hamby

There must be a Russian word to describe what has happened
              between us, like ostyt, which can be used
for a cup of  tea that is too hot, but after you walk to the next room,
              and return, it is too cool; or perekhotet,
which is to want something so much over months
              and even years that when you get it, you have lost
the desire. Pushkin said, when he saw his portrait by Kiprensky,
              “It is like looking into a mirror, but one that flatters me.”
What is the word for someone who looks into her friend’s face
              and sees once smooth skin gone like a train that has left
the station in Petersburg with its wide avenues and nights
              at the Stray Dog Cafe, sex with the wrong men,
who looked so right by candlelight, when everyone was young
              and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, painted or wrote
all night but nothing good, drank too much vodka, and woke
              in the painful daylight with skin like fresh cream, books
everywhere, Lorca on Gogol, Tolstoy under Madame de Sévigné,
              so that now, on a train in the taiga of  Siberia,
I see what she sees — all my books alphabetized and on shelves,
              feet misshapen, hands ribbed with raised veins,
neck crumpled like last week’s newspaper, while her friends
              are young, their skin pimply and eyes bright as puppies’,
and who can blame her, for how lucky we are to be loved
              for even a moment, though I can’t help but feel like Pushkin,
a rough ball of  lead lodged in his gut, looking at his books
              and saying, “Goodbye, my dear friends,” as those volumes
close and turn back into oblong blocks, dust clouding
              the gold leaf that once shimmered on their spines.


Read more about this poem and poet on the Poetry Foundation website: http://bit.ly/149Pv0R.

it is fitting and delicious to lose everything
– Donald Hall