we can never go back


Nokyoung Xayasane

I went back once
to visit my old elementary school.

I remember the wide fields,
but there was only a small patch of grass.

I remember the brick and mortar
and all the rooms filled with light.

But now nothing.
The school had burnt down years ago.

There was no stray brick in sight,
no pole with a flag waving in the wind.

I didn’t get out of the car.
There was nothing there to see.

But there were those
endless golden days,

those Easter egg hunts,
margarine sandwiches in the late afternoon,

books upon books in the library,
messy high and side ponytails.

There was that boy crush
who finally held your hand.

There was a girl once who ran through
the fields, laughing.

There was that feeling
of needing nothing more than what we had.

That’s how it is,
the past, a dream we’ve made up.

We can never go back
no matter how hard we try.

We shone just as we were

Indio, California (19 April 2012)

Indio, California (19 April 2012)

Nokyoung Xayasane

Do you remember
our car ride
through California?
The sun and wind,
those ten days.
All of it.

No road
could hold us.
I didn’t care
for roadmaps,
and neither
did you.
We existed
in this
closed box,
headed on
a journey
of no return.
The wind
and air
and sky
all around us.

We shone
just as we were,
didn’t we?
You saw me
just as I was.
I loved you,
I loved you,
didn’t I?

We drove along
the streets
of Los Angeles
in our rented car.
I didn’t want
a roadmap
and you never
cared for them.
We rented a hotel room
in West Hollywood.
The room was lit
by a single
bare bulb,
the sheets
were thin
and itched,
the carpet
was threadbare
and worn.
We threw
the sheets up,
and hurried
beneath them.
We were
never so close.

At night,
we met a man at a bar
who told us
we must go
to Venice beach.
We did.
We shared fish tacos
on the boardwalk.
We ran
along the beach,
the seagulls
glittering in the sky,
the sand endless,
our laughter
effortless and wide and clear.
We shone
just as we were.

the deserts of Indio
opened up for us.
You in your rolled up jeans,
me alongside
in high-waisted shorts
and an oversized hat.
There were
endless throngs
of beautiful people
in sunglasses,
white fringe,
expounding on cleanses,
contemplating yoga stances,
bare-breasted women
and musicians
tongue kissing on stage.

The music
the stages
with lights.
You looked at me
and I felt
the world
and beginning
again and again.

The sun scorched our
bodies brown,
we glistened
with the midday
the music
never ends.
It never stops.
We danced
and danced
and danced.
We smoked
with strangers,
we laughed
until we cried,
we kissed
until we were sore.

When night fell
our second wind rose.
I heard
the music
pick up again.
I was
who I always
wanted to be,
there with you.
You were rain
the cracked desert
We were
who we
hoped to be.

I love you,
I said.
I’m glad you exist,
you said.
And the world
kept beginning.

(1 March 2016)

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)

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


*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.