I will wake them when they are ready to be heard

but_first_coffee

The morning off, but first coffee

The right words
Nokyoung Xayasane

For the last three weeks,
it’s been hard for me to find
the right words.

I think the night was ‘resurrected’ for me.
‘Redeemed,’ you say,
and you are right.
Yes, the night was ‘redeemed’ by the last poet.
Her stories flowed from another time.
I could feel the history of it.
Its magnitude.
Like I said, there seems to be the right words,
but they’ve been eluding me lately.
Where do they go
when I’m not using them?

I hold up a thin candle;
its faint flame illuminating
very little.
The word is just outside the circle of light,
hiding serenely in the darkness, safe.
I move towards it,
and it moves too,
beyond my reach.

I don’t see how she can …
‘Reconcile,’ you offer,
and you are right.
I don’t see how she can ‘reconcile’ her independence
with moving across the country for someone.
Abandon everything for someone.
Is that what love is?
I wish I could find the right word to express
how I feel about that.
‘Bewildered,’ perhaps.
‘Incredulous,’ maybe.

I take a break from the words
and sit on my balcony, in the sun.

The words sleep quietly in the dark.
I will wake them
when they are ready to be heard.

(November 2015)

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What we talk about when we talk about love

cobweb in the sunshine and the last Sunday I sat on this particular porch

cobweb in the sunshine and the last Sunday I sat on this particular porch

What we talk about when we talk about love
Nokyoung Xayasane

I think I miss laughter the most.
I miss laughter, induced by another person,
or should I be more specific?
Induced by you.
Sitting on our front porch,
there were those tinkering wind chimes
our neighbour hung that annoyed you
but charmed me.
Do you remember them?

We sat in the comfort of each other,
reading and not speaking
while the hushed streets barely
whispered in the summer wind.

I miss the ease with which you live
your life,
the lazy energy of Saturday morning,
when there was time to say nothing
and do very little.

Sometimes I would look over at you
and I would try and remember
the sunlight streaming through the evergreen tree
beside our porch,
and I could barely contain myself for joy.

I miss the lazy car rides where I didn’t
have to talk and you didn’t have to listen.
We shared a silence
that only two people can share
who have said all they have to say
and need not say one word more.

Yes, I do,
I do, miss the easy laughter,
and I miss those lazy summer nights
when we were young and free
and full of something we could not name.

This morning,
riding back to our old neighbourhood,
I realized I missed
the wide-eyed enchantment
of things to come,
not knowing what was next for us.
Do you miss those things too?
I wonder,
but am too afraid to ask.

The man beside me on the streetcar
murmurs something incoherent
and I miss the ease of not missing you.

I know I can return
but I can never go back
to that place we shared
where laughter came easy
and the days were sweet and pure
and full of possibilities.
Do you remember that place
as I remember it?

I guess missing is all we have.
Those memories we shared from long ago,
they become as audible
as our old neighbour’s wind chimes
and as bright as the light streaming
through the evergreen trees
where two people read in the hush of summer.

And I realize far too late,
this must be what we talk about
when we talk about love.

(November 2015)

whatever it is we remember, we’ll remember this

The last lights of summer (Little Italy, Toronto, August, 2015)

The last lights of summer
(Little Italy, Toronto, August, 2015)

whatever it is we remember, we’ll remember this
Nokyoung Xayasane

whatever it is we remember
we’ll remember this
that once we were happy
and we held on to some sort of belief
in something beyond our bedroom walls
we once strained against the glass
that looked out onto the world
and we hoped for magical nights
when the air was warm but the wind was cool
when we gathered with friends underneath Christmas lights
that sparkled
even though it wasn’t Christmas

whatever it is we remember
we’ll remember a time
when we were young and beautiful
the world bowed to us
everything was possible, attainable
everything could be measured by the span of our hands
we held the world in our palms and
swung high into the air

the stars pushed out above
the songs from our childhood
our singing was no longer a form of helplessness
we remembered that once we knew nothing
and we still don’t
at least, at least
we are no longer afraid
at least we are full of wonder still
and the lights that glittered on that patio
that night
in that city we called home

we remember we loved and were loved
and all of it meant something
if only for a little while
if only for a brief moment
and we’ll remember nights
when time was within our grasp
but we lost it all the same
we spoke in fake British accents
in 24-hour phở restaurants
we held on to some kind of freedom
that was fleeting but we held on nonetheless

what we know now is this:
we’ll always be okay
we are sometimes surprised when
we hear our voices lifted above the tumult of noises
the traffic careening down streets that led to places
we thought we would never see
but stepping out into the street the wind lifts
our hair sticks to our lips
our bodies are nothing more than
air and dust and bone and breath

what we are we know
this will always last for us
what we know is time will stand still for us
but we wander nonetheless
we wander nonetheless

(August 2015)

for a life that is real

Hello, dear friends. I know it’s been a while since my last post — almost a year. Sometimes we have to wander a little bit before we come back to what we know and love. In my case, my truest loves are poetry and music.

beach_hat

Bluffer’s Beach in August, 2014

Since we last spoke, I moved to Toronto and I’ve been living here for nine months now, but I feel like I’ve always been here; this place has been a part of me before I even looked out my apartment window on St. Clair Ave.

The people, the voices of friends calling to each other, the cacophony of blaring horns, screeching tires, music playing in the streets, the way the afternoon sun punches through the clouds, the hush of a September morning, and the smell of fresh rain; these things I will always remember.

I was walking down St. Clair Ave West and Dufferin St, when I realized there’s only one thing I want now. It isn’t happiness, wealth, fame, or even peace of mind. What I really want is this: I want a life that is real.

Happiness
Susan Griffin

Happiness. I am not used
to this. (There is always
something wrong.)
Look at it
the bright early tree.
(I am trying to find out
how you fell.)
The leaves have already turned.
(I want you to see
this, how they
glow outside the glass.)
Morning light strikes
differently. For so
many years I hardly
had time to know such
moments. They struck me
with such intensity
I would have said
battered me open.
I never understood
they were mine.
I was panicked.
Unhappiness caught up with me
all the time.
Did you know
the speed of light never alters
even when you go faster
it will be
still that much faster
than you?
(I am thinking that in your fall
something momentous occurred.)
What I see as beautiful
I want you to see too.
Next door, the workmen are hammering.
Very soon we’ll go to lunch.
For some reason this moves me to tears.
How life is.
(One does not have to explain
what occurs. One only need say
it has meaning.)
Years ago, when I was young
I traveled to Italy, took in
the great sights. I was in awe, yet
I did not understand
seeing Masaccio’s frescoes
fading like shadows into the walls,
this would be the only time
nor that
I would never forget.
Those muted shades are
still with me, as possession
and longing, and the view too
of the square before that church
the air, newly spring,
that day, all of it.
Life, I have finally begun to realize,
is real.
(All this time you recover
from falling
will sink indelibly into mind.)
The leaves
may fall before you are able
to see them. Science
has recently learned
the line
of existence is soft
and stretches out like a field
wind and light shaping the grass
energy
of sight giving consciousness
force. In the meantime
we live out our lives.
(This morning we talked for so long
everything became lucid.
How can I say what I see?)
At each turning
perfection eludes me.
One moment is not like another.
Last spring
the house next door caught fire.
There was the smell of gas.
We thought
both houses would go.
I vanished up the hill,
went to the house of a friend
where we listened for flames
and to that aria from Italian
opera, was it the one of love,
or jealousy, or grief?
My house was untouched.
Now the one next door is painted,
fixed. In place of
perfection, the empty hands
I turned out to the world
are filled.
With what? A letter
half written, the notes
I make on this page,
this new feeling about my shoulders
of age, that sad child’s story
you told me this morning,
the workmen’s tools sounding
and stopping. What? As time
moves through me, does it also
move through you?
I keep remembering what you said,
ways you have of seeing (and that
light must have curved with
you fall.) This
is the paradox of vision:
Sharp perception softens
our existence in the world.

1986

Susan Griffin, “Happiness” from Bending Home: Selected and New Poems. Copyright © 1998 by Susan Griffin. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townshend, WA 98368-0271, coppercanyonpress.org.

Read more about this poem and poet on the Poetry Foundation website: http://bit.ly/16iQxIs

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!

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

(2009)

*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.

I want to live another thousand years

Recently, I applied to teach English in Indonesia, and now I’m thinking about interning in Africa–Malawi or Ghana, to be specific. Here is one of my favourite poems from Indonesia:

Me, Chairil Anwar

When my time comes
No one’s going to cry for me,
And you won’t, either

The hell with all those tears!

I’m a wild beast
Driven out of the herd

Bullets may pierce my skin
But I’ll keep coming,

Carrying forward my wounds and my pain
Attacking
Attacking
Until suffering disappears

And I won’t give a damn

I want to live another thousand years

(translated by Burton Raffel)

Anwar, Chairil. “Me.” The Poetry of Our World: An International Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jeffrey Paine et al. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. 427.