This is where I come from


This is where I come from
Nokyoung Xayasane

Are you Japanese?
Are you half white?

What’s your background?
I have a degree in health science
and professional writing.
No, what’s your background?
Where do your parents come from?

My parents
they come from a place
rooted in joy and loss
where the streets flowed
with water and blood
the air is alive with laughter
and the full-throated groan
of hope dying.

My parents
they come from a place
where bombs fell
and flowers bloomed
screams ripped through the night
and the sigh of breezes
entered an open window
the sound of a thousand
feet running for cover,
the sound of a thousand
hands clapping for peace.

My parents
they come from a place
of astounding beauty
as if untouched
a place of
deafening quietness,
modest dwellings
and open fields
of lush green.

My mother
she sold and bought items
on the black market
to feed her family.
She stood behind wrought-iron bars
and escaped into the night
while gunshots rang
clear and hard.

My father
he taught children
in a schoolroom
with a dirt floor
and a dusty blackboard.
He was a boy
who cried too much
who felt too much.
He learned to harden
his heart, to endure.

My mother
she birthed a child
in a nameless place
a place where people
stand in waiting.
My father
held that child
and dreamed of a place
where his family
could breathe,

They dreamed
of a place
where all people
from all walks of life
could reach out
and embrace their neighbour,
a place where people
could reach out
and clasp the hands
of their fellow brothers and sisters.
They dreamed of a place
where love endures
and fear
is nothing
but a distant memory.

That’s where I come from

like it all meant something

these days
Nokyoung Xayasane

these days
you find
are so full
it makes you recall
the days of idleness
full of unanswered
questions and emails
long drives to
nowhere in particular

and sometimes you recall
the places where you felt
your first heartbreak
when the sky and sun
were so necessary
you sought out their
with closed eyes, tilted chin
towards the heat

and you recall the streets
like ghost towns
buildings where you watched
the local punk scene
all its characters
milling about
and laughing
playing music
like it all meant something

and the house
you used to occupy
its small rooms
full of light and
air and stained glass
and the city
you used to know
where everything
reminded you
of the person
you could never be

you were always
looking for an out
but these streets
these buildings
these people
they meant
something to you
and somehow
they still do

(April 2015)

we belong somewhere

If you had asked me where I wanted to be when I was in my mid-twenties, my answer would’ve been, “Anywhere but here.” It didn’t matter where as long as I was far away from everything I had ever known and anyone whom I had ever loved and still loved.


Venice Beach, Los Angeles (Photo credit: nokxayasane/Instagram)

I wanted to be totally lost and plunged into a different life: A life where I never had to see the people who hurt me, who loved me, who missed me, who disappointed me.

It seemed like the only way to be happy. But then I learned that I needed people just as much as they needed me. I learned that no matter where I went, I couldn’t run from myself nor from my people in my life. I learned eventually that I do belong somewhere, and I didn’t have to search very far to find that place.

Lonely for the Country, Bronwen Wallace

Sometimes these days
you think you are ready
to settle down.

This might be the season for it,
this summer of purple sunsets
when you stand in the streets
watching the sky, until its colour
is a bruised place
inside your chest.

When you think of settling down
you imagine yourself growing comfortable
with the land and remember the sustained faces
of men like your grandfather, the ridges of black veins
that furrowed the backs of their hands as they squared
a country boundary for you, or built once more
old Stu McKenzie’s barn exactly as they’d raised it
60 years ago.
You watch the hands of the women
on market days, piling onions, filling buckets
with tomatoes, their thick, workaday gestures
disclosing at times
what you think you recognize as caring,
even love.

At least that’s how it looks
from the outside and when you think
of settling down, you always think of it
as a place.

It makes the city seem imaginary, somehow.
As you drive through the streets,
you begin to see how the lives there look
as if they had been cut from magazines:
a blond couple carrying a wicker picnic-basket
through the park, a man in faded brown shorts
squatting on his front lawn
fixing a child’s red bike.

You wish you could tell yourself
that this is all too sentimental.
You want to agree with the person
who said, “There’s no salvation
in geography.”

But you can’t
and you’re beginning to suspect
that deep within you,
like a latent gene, is this belief
that we belong somewhere.

What you know
is that once you admit that
it opens in you
a deeper need.
A need like that loneliness
which makes us return again and again
to the places we shared
with those we can no longer love,
empty-hearted, yet expectant,
searching for revelations
in the blank faces of remembered houses.

As wide as bereavement
and dangerous,
it renders us innocent
as mourners at a graveside
who want to believe their loss
has made this holy ground
and wait
for the earth beneath their feet
to console them.

Wallace, Bronwen. “Lonely for the Country.” Common Magic. Canada: Oberon Press, 1985.