always, I am a river rushing

counter culture
Nokyoung Xayasane

Inside,
I am a river raging.

They tell me,
It’s a man’s world.
They say,
We live in an age
of white privilege,
rape culture,
slut shaming,
ethnic profiling.

Sometimes
I want to go
back there,
leave Toronto
and return
to the punks
of Kitchener-Waterloo.

That subculture,
that counter culture,
those punks
of KW,
they hail from families
of doctors,
lawyers,
clergymen,
teachers.
They have
summer homes
in cottage country.
In the warm season,
they bask
in the rivers and lakes.

What do they
know about injustice?
They went
to a protest once.
They read
some articles.
They dated
an Asian girl,
a black girl,
a brown girl.
They abstain
from drugs and drink.
Straight-edge, etc.
They go on juice
cleanses.
They
don’t eat meat
or any animal by-products.
Vegan, etc.
They brew
their own
beer,
coffee,
tea.
The pour-over method,
handicrafts,
double belts,
tattoos
ironic and true.

Counter culture?
Everyone
they speak to,
sleep with,
play with,
speaks
the same language,
has the same
white skin,
They shame stereotypes,
but live them fully,
reveling and rebelling
in their
middle-class lives.
Some of them
smoke a little weed,
some a lot.
They debate on
philosophy, politics,
and all around the
circle, they nod
and confirm what
the other believes,
loving the sound
of their own voices
ringing out
clear and strong
and knowledgeable.

So you play in a punk band?
What do you know
about injustice?
So you’re drawn
to the marginalized,
the visible minority.
What do you know
about injustice?

You’re a male feminist?
You dated someone
of colour?
How radical.
The next time
you feel the need to
mansplain,
don’t.
I know my body’s rights.
I know what the world
expects from me.
I’ll keep mum
and look oh so pretty.
I’ll play the cute vixen librarian
you all want to fuck.
I’ll wear my summer dress
and Converse shoes,
my oversized glasses.
Those punks,
they speak
so freely
and openly.
They know
no other way to be.
They tell me,
It’s a man’s world
after all.

You think you know
about injustice
because your
grandmother tied
herself to a tree,
because your uncle
declaimed the man.
Try escaping
from a place
of blood and war,
try running in the
forest from the sound
of bombs falling,
measuring your distance
from the noise
so you’re in the middle
of the projectile’s arch.
Try hiding a soldier
in your home
as militants interrogate
your family.
Try being raped at
sixteen by your suitor
and have this be
the everyday.
Try being jailed
and escaping
in a canoe
while the sound
of bullets
ricochets
through the pitch night.
Try giving birth
on a dirt floor.
What do you know
about injustice?

Don’t speak to me
about your counter culture.
Try raising a family
of immigrants, refugees
who speak not
a stitch of English.
Try sitting down
at a table with the
family friend
who sexually assaulted
you at 12 years old,
whose wedding
your parents attended
a year after banning
him from your home.
Hush.
No one
shall speak
of this
again.
We must
protect
our fragile
community.
One mere girl
will not destroy us.

Always,
always
I am
a river rushing,
rushing.

language would never be a barrier for her

Thailand, 1984

Thailand, 1984

the things she carried
Nokyoung Xayasane

I remember what my mother told me
when I was eight years old.
One day, we decided to exchange
a Super Nintendo console for the
one that came with the Donkey Kong game.

In the Zellers parking lot,
she gave me the box to carry.
I walked with that box in my tiny hands —
my mother by my side.
The box grew heavier with each step.
And the closer we got to the electronics section,
the heavier it became.

Meh, I said,
(‘Meh’ is Lao for mom)
Meh, I said, can you carry it for me?
I gave her my most helpless look.
She looked at me then and said,
Deep
(‘Da deep’ means ‘little eyes’)
Deep,
you’re just afraid.

And yes, I suppose I was.
We walked up to the Zellers employee —
a shaggy-haired fella
who stood behind the counter
organizing double A batteries.

My mother stood by my side, wordless.
She didn’t speak English that well,
but even at eight, I knew that language
would never be a barrier for her.
I want to get the one with Donkey Kong, I whispered.

Afterwards, we walked outside to the car.
The sky was this purple and pink colour —
the same sky I’d paint in my art class years later.
I held the new system in my hands —
this one included the game.
I played Donkey Kong all summer long,
and if you were wondering,
I can lift that console quite easily now.

(June 2015)