you can’t have it all, but there is this

you can't have it all, but there is this

I’m Lao but I was born in a Thai refugee camp. Here I am hanging out with my buddies and listening to our favourite cassettes. (Photo credit: nokxayasane/Instagram)

Happy Thanksgiving to all my lovely (Canadian) readers!

I know, I know, if you’re American, Thanksgiving’s not for another month or so. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with your neighbours from the North, right?

Mmmm, Thanksgiving. I wish I could share my homemade pumpkin pies with all of you. It may be the best pumpkin pie in existence. I’m not exaggerating. Or biased, whatsoever.

Pumpkin pies and baked goodies aren’t the only things I’m thankful for though. I’m thankful for a whole lot and when I sat down to think about my gratitude list, I felt almost overwhelmed but really happy.

It made me think: Many of the things we’re thankful for are shaped by where we come from and when we were born. I’m Lao but I was born in a Thai refugee camp. My parents and I immigrated to Canada when I was five years old. Sometimes it blows my mind to know I could’ve led a very different life.

But I also realized how similar we all are even with our diverse backgrounds and varying value systems. It’s a wonderful feeling to sit across from someone who seems so different from me — only to learn we both have a soft spot for Boyz II Men and would prefer to spend our Friday evenings cuddling with our tabby cats.

It’s also a wonderful thing to be able to connect with people I’ve never met and may never meet. Today marks two years since I began Bird of Passage! I’m thankful for this sense of community and for having a platform to share my love of poetry and music.

With that being said, I hope you enjoy this poem by Barbara Ras which sheds light on all the little and big things we may forget to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

You Can’t Have It All, Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-
   year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia,
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy,
   for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the
   hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.

Ras, Barbara. “You Can’t Have It All.” She Walks in Beauty. Ed. Caroline Kennedy. New York: Hyperion, 2011.

the idea that she was possible

dance floors would bleed from the knife of her dress (Photo credit: @nokxayasane/Instagram)

dance floors would bleed from the knife of her dress (Photo credit: nokxayasane/Instagram)

When you start a new chapter in your life, you can get super stressed out.

Whether you’ve decided to move to a new city, take on a new job, or end a toxic relationship, there’s always a sense of fear that comes with your decision.

But fear shouldn’t be something we … well … fear. It’s the thrill of knowing our life, as we know it, is about to change, drastically.

Yes, there will be times when we’re lost on the metro and have no clue where we’re going and we ask ourselves why we’ve moved to a city of faceless strangers. Yes, there will be days when our new boss is micromanaging the sanity out of us and we’re dying for the clock to read 5 pm. And yes, there will be days when we wish for the comfort of our former partner even though the relationship was as dysfunctional as Hannah and Adam’s relationship in the first season of Girls.

For me, whenever I start a new chapter in my life, I try and find poetry that comforts me and validates my decisions.

This is an excerpt I took from Dionne Brand’s book of poetry called Thirsty. I chose the parts I liked best so it’s missing a bunch of the poem.

To read the whole poem, check out her book. Do people still buy books nowadays? I hope so. Books are the bees’ knees.

XXXI, Dionne Brand

the clarity
of the traffic, the sky, the day, her life
her directions, plain, unknown, except for this,
the idea, the idea that she was possible

she could assassinate streets with her eyes
damage books and chemical compounds and honey and waiting
rooms, dance floors would bleed from the knife of her dress

She needed to smell, without dying, the skin
of someone else, she needed without wounding,
without a murder, without a killing, a truce if not peace,
a city, as a city was supposed to be, forgetful,
and to gather up any charm she might have
left, to sleep, to feel snow, to have it matter,
to wake the leaves, to hate rain

Heads up!

I’m starting a new lifestyle blog in the new year which chronicles my adventures as a freelance writer trying to make it in the big city (Toronto) with the help of food, friends, and feline. Stay tuned!

with those we can no longer love

Falling by Nokyoung Xayasane

The golden leaves fell softly, gently oscillating in their descent. She sat there silently, looking out into the field from the tiny chapel window. Her breath quickened, and she wished that for one split second — everything would just stop. If only the present time could be hushed and imbued with reassuring stillness, but life wasn’t like that; it moves as if propelled towards something greater.

Sophia sat immobile. Her long white wedding dress enveloped her slight frame as she watched the leaves falling slowly to the ground; their golden descent matching her tears. Her arm moved upwards, struggling out of a dense mud, caked with lethargy. She wiped her tears away.

And then it happened — as it always did: She saw him, youthful and optimistic, under that tree, smiling at her quizzically, and she could almost touch him, as one who is able to touch the past. But he wasn’t there. He was somewhere that she could never reach. Even years later when she saw him at the theatre, he remained someone untouchable, unalterable. His hair had become sparser at the sides, but she could have recognized that energy anywhere; it calmed her and energized her simultaneously.

“Sophia, my God, it’s been so long. How are you?” He had asked her that numerous times in the past and it had always thrown her off guard, as if she were realizing for the first time that she existed and felt things as person.

“I’m well. How have you been, Owen?” The distance between them minimized. They stood there alone, except for the flakes that began to descend. Their intimacy — short in distance, but heavy with things left unsaid. She smiled; the light never reaching her eyes. He smiled back at her genuinely, but always curiously. In that one shared look she felt the impossibility of them sharing any space together for more than a few minutes, and the conversation meandered, never settling in one place, never standing still, and eventually they moved away from each other as their words lost any semblance of meaning. The distance between them expanded, and the crowd of people materialized around them.

“Well, it was nice to see you again.” As he said this he moved his hand to touch her shoulder, reminding her of the ever-present awkwardness between them. Two people who were too joined in mental space to exist properly in physical space.

“Yes, it was nice. I hope you continue… to be well.”

“You too.”

“Well, see you when I see you.”

“Who knows, maybe it’ll be less than five years before we run into each other again,” he joked, his eyes smiling.

“Yeah,” Sophia laughed softly. She wanted to reach out and touch him gently. She wanted to strangle him.

“Well, only time will tell,” he trailed off, lost somewhere. “Okay, bye then,” abruptly spoken.


They moved away from each other into their own realities, but those moments stood still for her. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her face flushed, pulsating. She stood up and the train of white material rustled after her. The cool flow of air entered the room as she quickly opened the chapel window. Autumn air rushed in and the sound of the leaves rustled in tune with her dress as she fanned herself with her now feverish hands.

“This is not how I imagined it would happen.” Her youthful voice came to her from somewhere far off.

“What did you think was going to happen?” They were at the tree again. A light mist of rain fell, barely perceptible under the canopy. Sophia sat next to him with her legs folded into her body; her arms encircling herself, clutching at an unattainable comfort. He stretched his legs outward, looking at her with unbearable rationality. “That we could just get up and go?”

“If you asked me to go, I’d go.” Her intensity surprised even herself. She didn’t really want to go anywhere with him; she just wanted to sit still with him, to be with him, but this plan made things seem less real: running away together to somewhere far off instead of being here, in this space.

“Sophia, you’d hate me. The farther I took you away from Jacob, from your family, the more you’d regret it. By the time we reached the 401 you’d wished you had never decided to go.” Owen looked at her and she felt as if she were falling from a precipice, from somewhere she had been standing without realizing it. “You don’t even know me. We don’t even know each other,” he reasoned.

“But I want to know you.” Her naivety rang sharply in her ears. If only he would see it her way. If only he could.

“I’m someone that you’ve created in your mind. I’m not this person that you think I am,” he countered.

A deep sigh escaped from her lips. “I wish you existed.”

“I wish you existed.”

“Who?” asked her mother.

“Mom, what are you doing in here?”

“Well, honey, we’re waiting for you. Everyone’s waiting for you. Jacob’s waiting for you.”

“Okay Mom, I just need one more minute.”

“Is everything okay, Sophia?”

“Yeah, of course. I just need more time.” Only time will tell, Owen had said.

“Okay, sweetheart. I’ll be waiting for you outside.” Her mother softly closed the door behind her and Sophia was back at the tree.

“What if we came back to this spot in five years?” She looked at Owen helplessly.

“No, Sophia, I can’t do that. I won’t do that. If you leave Jacob it has to be because of what he’s done or what he isn’t. It can’t be for me. It has to be for you.”

“Sophia, it’s all been for you,” argued Jacob as they faced each other in the kitchen, a year before their wedding day.

“What has?”

“What do you mean? Everything has been for you: the ring, the house, everything!”

She wished she could feel something more. A part of her yearned to stay with him, but she was already gone. Her mind wandered past sandy terrains, past the cloak that had shielded her for all these years. I know you want to keep me here, but I cannot stay.

“Why do you want to be with me?”

“Because I’m only happy when you’re around. I need you.”

She could feel the cloak begin to tighten. A warm pain festered within her chest and she struggled to breathe. He held her then and the pain subsided, placated by his touch. His mouth moved above her, inside her, around her, and she fell into him. The ceramic tiles were cold against her back. He moved above her, looking down at her. He loves me, she thought, and her tears fell.

The autumn wind blew in through the chapel window. The leaves called out to her, called out for her to run. She clamoured up the windowsill and fell the short distance to the ground. The leaves crunched beneath her feet. Her heels pounded against the grass. More leaves fell around her — falling past her.  She ran, ran, ran. Never stopping.

A soft knock sounded at the door. “Are you ready? The music is about to start.” Sophia looked away from the window.

“Yes Mom, I’m coming.” For one moment, she stood still. She could feel the hard jut of the baseboard, the stickiness of skin on tile, the gasping breaths between two warm bodies.

She could feel the snow falling, melting on her face, the way snow surprises you with its first touch. And the rain. The drops of rain that made their way through the overhanging canopy; the drops that had fallen lightly between two youthful figures.

I wish you existed. Words reverberating from a past that moved forward without heed. I wish you didn’t need me so much.

Once the leaves outside were green, but they had changed to a golden hue, something altogether different, she thought. They perched on the tips of branches but eventually they must fall, softly floating down in their fragility to meet with the hard ground. She moved away from the window and the falling leaves.

The door opened and artificial light entered the room. She turned to face the light. Her mother’s face fell.