welcome to the struggle


welcome to the struggle,
Nokyoung Xayasane

This rooftop is too hot,
the men
are too “appreciative.”
I’ve broken the strap
on my sandal
and someone grabbed my wrist
in the stairwell.
I feel its sting
and my yelling ringing
in my ear.
I’m that person now
who yells at bouncers
and at cars driving into me
on the street.
I gesticulate and foam
at the mouth.
Remember when I baked pumpkin pies
and believed you
when you said
she was nothing special?

There is a fire inside the city,
burning blue
smoke everywhere.
I stand coughing my
two-lunged life away.

I want to leave
this place
but I’ve just arrived.
Why do we want to be
where we’re not?
I wait for happiness
to arrive
like some long-sought refuge,
but I alone
must craft this feeling
of rainbows and sunshine
from string and glue and
plastic wrappers.

All I can hear
is incessant laughter
ricocheting off high rises
and buildings made of
steel and glass
and the sun
it blazes
on this city rooftop
tar and spit and the vomit
of words, common syllables
and nothing is said ever
that hasn’t been said before.
The people here
they drink and revel
and call out
to each other
as if it meant something.

How come
I must make an effort
in all things?
I want to put my phone down
and look into another
human being’s face
and tell them
something they’ve never
heard before.

I want to string the words
together in a pattern
that glitters and cuts
that shakes them alive
that transplants them from
this smog-filled city
to a seaside town
and we are in the water
high to our knees
and there are these birds
that circle round and round
and the blue stretches out
beyond our understanding,
then you will
turn to me
and tell me
a harsh truth
about the human struggle,
and it will be filled with
longing and dreams
that fly away by night
and hide somewhere
dark and shining,
ready to be unearthed,
but instead
we turn away and
we glare at the sun.
I blink
and wait for the heat
to dissipate,
a blue fire
burning in the distance.

the line that cannot be crossed


The narrator
Nokyoung Xayasane

There is a line
that you must not cross.
This line, you see,
is invisible.

It is formed
by your senses
your perceptions
your upbringing
your experience.

There is a line
that you must not cross,
the narrator
repeats to herself.
Her mantra.
When she exists,
she exists.
When she narrates,
she narrates.

She goes for brunch
on a July Sunday.
The heat stifles.
Her hair is up.
She orders the eggs benedict
a mimosa
She does not take photos
of her meal.
She eats her meal.

She will sit on the patio
and look out
across the street
at a bar she went to months ago.
That was where
she had decided
to have a one-night stand.

She will be mildly surprised
at the nearness of things.
There are places
she happens upon
coming from a different direction
that becomes new
all over again.
But this one-night stand,
it lasted for weeks,
and not because of her own doing.
Months later, he still messages
her like a dog in heat
with faux courtesy
and an exhausting sentence structure,
wanting to explain something.
She does not know.
She needs no explanation.
She has given him
enough of her time.
Some of them, the weak ones,
the romantics, they can’t let go.

On another night
at another bar
down the road,
she will lift up her drink
and give a toast,
Cheers, she will say,
to this old-fashioned.
I like my drinks strong
and my men weak.

She will write poems
about all of them,
and he will think
they are about him.
Finally, at last
here is something
to memorialize him.
He will no doubt
obsess over it
like he does with
she puts onto paper,
trying in vain
to capture something
he never had.
She has never met anyone
so ripe for love.

Perhaps, she thinks,
he sees her
as a hidden island.
Her name evokes
a pleasurable pain.
He likes to think
about her
to stay alive
to feel alive.

Some of them love
to kneel before her
without any prompting.
Even the most intelligent
will fall at the feet
of beauty.

Sometimes it is too easy.
This bores her.
The way people
are stretched
and moulded
like play dough
by a pretty face
and a curvy body
by a quick wit
and a play of words.

She knows everything
about them
They open for her
like floodgates
by a single look,
a well-placed word.

You see, there is a line
that she must not cross.
She steps right up
to the edge.
Her toes
her heel
on solid ground,
this feeling
of safety and oblivion.
The wind blowing,
the sound of the sea rushing.
She will keep her eyes open
she doesn’t want to miss a thing.
Her eyes fill with tears
of joy of sorrow?
She has learned
they are the same thing.
She leans forward
on the edge.
She steps back.

There is life
and then
there is art.
The narrator
must remember this.
There is a line
that cannot
be crossed.

nothing to do


nothing to do
Nokyoung Xayasane

So this is what it’s like
to have nothing to do.
This morning, I woke up
and I made my coffee
and a green smoothie.

I went out on my balcony
with two drinks and two books,
but I came back inside
because it was too sunny
and hot out.

I thought, I could watch any movie
I wanted to, or
if I’m really at a loss,
I’ll read my old anatomy
textbook or perhaps write a novel.

Today, I didn’t make a list.
Maybe I’ll eat a bunch of chips
and fall asleep listening to
music from the 60s and 70s
(my faves).

Then I thought, So this is what it’s like
to not be in love or entangled in someone.
I feels pretty normal and ordinary.
Maybe I’ll begin a love affair for fun,
but I’ll probably just write a poem instead.

the person I tried to be


my to-do list
Nokyoung Xayasane

On my to-do list,
I’ve written down
about 15 things.
At the end of the day,
I crossed off one item
that perhaps
took me five minutes
to accomplish.
Tomorrow, I think
I won’t write
such a long list.
Maybe I won’t write a list
at all.
Maybe I’ll watch four episodes
of The Mind of a Chef
all in a row
without any feelings
of guilt or remorse.
Maybe I’ll read three books
while drinking a glass of wine
in the late afternoon
and fall asleep in my chair
like a grandfather.

There are days
when I feel
like lying in bed all day.
After a few hours
of listening to music
and writing in bed,
I get up
and I brush my teeth,
I make a cup of coffee,
I shower,
I put makeup on my face
even when I feel disgusting
and lonely
and unlovable.
I do these things
because Julianna Margulies
from The Good Wife
recommended it,
and I’ll listen to any ER nurse
who made out with George Clooney.

I’ll also get out of my robe,
put on some clothes,
walk downstairs
and get the mail,
take out the garbage,
the recycling,
and the green bin
like one YouTube vlogger
I’ll wash the dishes,
make my bed,
vacuum and mop the floor,
do my laundry,
all the activities
that help me
feel as if I’m
a productive member
of society.
Maybe not of society,
maybe just a productive person
in my rented apartment
that I share with a cat
and one roommate.

I’ll try not to feel sorry for myself
except when I do
almost every other day,
especially near the end of the month
when my rent is due
and one of my freelance clients
refuses to pay my whole invoice.
It must be a breeze for him
to feel so safe almost all the time
when I struggle every day
to make a life for myself
in a city that forgets
so easily
and takes and chips away
so ruthlessly.
But I know
even with all my complaining
and griping
and outbursts
and tears in the bathroom
and falling asleep on the kitchen floor
with a glass of water
my cat beside me
the pizza I bought at 1:30 in the morning
burning in my oven,
I know that at least
I’m living a life of my own choosing.
It’s something
not everyone gets a chance to do.

When I sit out on my balcony
in the morning
in the afternoon
and when I walk the streets of Toronto
in the evening
to clear my head
to have random conversations
with strangers trudging to work
in the late hours,
I know I’m living a life
that I have only dreamed of,
and so I sit on my balcony
and watch the world go by,
and I try to write a few lines
here and there
with the hope
that when I die
someone will remember me
as I am
and not as the person
I tried desperately
to be.

who we hope to be


who we hope to be
Nokyoung Xayasane

what we have
and what we know
is this
there are moments when
everything is clear
when time is slowed
between every second
is an eternity

we glimpse it
those moments of clarity
walking down Queen St W
the rush of wind
and open sky
there is movement and silence
anonymity and infamy in the streets

we are free here
free as we’ll ever be
freer than we’ll ever be again

what we once held dear
love, security, comfort
those are all illusions

nothing lasts
nothing remains
except for the persistent
buzzing of silence
by the cry of ecstasy
the heaving of bodies
giving in
the carnal nature of who we are
vapid and cruel and weak
and who we hope to be
strong and beautiful and pure