I Cried Today Because I Thought About

Christmas Eve, all of my cousins sitting criss-cross applesauce on the basement floor, bodies covered in wrapping paper from a night of being spoiled to death. That’s just how it is in our family: we’re kids forever, even though most of us will probably marry this decade or have babies or both. I’m the youngest and I’m twenty. Still, it’s like we never aged past elementary school. I’m remembering how we’d complain every holiday, blinded by camera flashes, because our Asian moms just had to capture every small moment, every new present we’d pull from each individual gift bag to reveal, even stopping to pose us like porcelain dolls. 3, 2, 1— smile! And we’d groan through our teeth and roll our eyes at how pointless it was. Another one for the album! Didn’t we already have enough albums?

It’s the togetherness that I miss most: growing up a little more each year in a thousand different ways, yet finding each other every Christmas Eve, catching up on the couch over plates heaping with crispy egg rolls and noodles. And then Line up! Line up! It’s picture time! How we’d all look at each other and sigh loudly, because we knew that it’d take at least half an hour to get that perfect shot in front of the Christmas tree, the one that would make our mothers— and Facebook— happy.

The things I would do to be there right now— touching, cackling at the silliness of it all, eating together, no tragedy. It’s the only perfect world I still have left in my mind. 

Moral of the story: there are never enough albums.

When I Told You I Want to Live in a Studio Apartment in the City One Day

a short story in short poems

V.

I know I romanticize it.

But I wish you did, too. I wish you saw yourself there with me, in a one-bedroom loft in a highly overrated European city, where we’d only speak the language in broken pieces, where we’d go for morning walks just to find the park benches with the best views, where we’d swim in the river and you’d let me paint you afterward, hair still wet, happy.

When I Told You I Want to Live in a Studio Apartment in the City One Day

a short story in short poems

IV.

I dream of a paint-splattered smock and a balcony for growing herbs and to live the kind of life others would deem pretentious. But I’d be doing everything but pretend: typing up my first novel criss-cross applesauce on the dining room floor, wearing colors I’d been too self-conscious to wear in my 20s, reading the classic literature I’d only skimmed half-drunk in the wee hours of my college years. I’d host intimate gatherings where we’d talk about everything but median salaries or church gossip or who got divorced. 

And we’d have everything. 

When I Told You I Want to Live in a Studio Apartment in the City One Day

a short story in short poems

II.
I didn’t bother waiting for your answer because you’d already told me, implicitly, within a thousand separate instances. Months ago at the home improvement store: That porch swing is to die for. One day I’ll get one just like that for us. And then again, driving through the upper middle class suburban neighborhoods with the pristine lawns and luxury cars: That one right there! The light blue one! That’s the kind of house we’ll live in one day. Just you and me and a couple of kids, wouldn’t that be sweet?

I Saw You Today

Washed in shades of gold under the sugar maples

at sunset. Book in hand, probably a rented copy

of something science fiction, you sat folded

like an origami bird, knees tucked into your ribs. 

I came closer. You didn’t notice

and I had no intention of saying hello anyway. 

Your hair reaches the cheekbones now.

You’ve got more color in your face. 

I guess things do change after all. 

Remember how I used to sit with you 

until the sky would erupt in its usual drama,

head flopped weakly against your shoulder?

How I’d write bad poems while you read,

stopping only to flick the loose strands 

from your eyes and to ask you, 

every so often, Isn’t it nice to just be here?

I could’ve asked something today

but I didn’t. I got close enough to look

and then chose to look away. 

It’s nice to just be here. 

Please keep reading.

Open Letter to Seventeen

I know you’re convinced this world would not miss you. But I’m sending you this letter through the space-time continuum equivalent of the USPS (sad story about that, actually, but we’ll get there) aiming to persuade you otherwise. One day you’ll be twenty (weird, right?) and you’ll have your own apartment where you’ll keep unlit vanilla candles by the windowsill and a boyfriend (!!!) who adores long, pensive walks to nowhere as much as you do. You’ll be able to cook for yourself (no, not Michelin star worthy, but at least you’ll be able to fry a mean egg) and set up your own therapy appointments (you’ll tremble through it, but that’s alright) and keep real friends around for Friday night shenanigans and Saturday morning recovery breakfasts. I know you hate the idea of having friends. That you’ve accepted your role as forever wallflower, the disposable stand-in at everyone’s parade, perpetually the girl who escaped high school homecoming to cry in the parking lot, hot tears glittering in her palms. But I’m writing to tell you that you’re graduating college next year (yes, already… but right now you’re living through a dark time in history. I’ll spare you the details, but you’re gonna be just fine) and that you wear real perfume and have stopped dyeing your hair drugstore blonde because, let’s face it, it’s always looked strange. State of the union: you still grind your teeth. You have crippling back pain now and you’ve got the eyesight of a centenarian. But you have enough conviction now to call yourself a capital- P Poet, and you say yes to the things that scare you and yes, love, this world would miss you (terribly).

Still Walking Home

I am dreaming of a certain place and time and it is neither here nor now. Tonight, I am eighteen again. Lorde’s Melodrama overwhelms the wires of my headphones as I walk home from campus’s most hated dining hall with a carry-out box of lukewarm Chinese noodles. It’s October, and the leaves have yet to turn, and it’s just rained in the typical Southwest Virginia fashion: sudden downpour followed by perfect, holy stillness. I’m making every effort to step gracefully into every puddle, rubber rain boots tiptoeing across the wet, starlit pavement. Wandering alone at night is a kind of prayer, I realize at this moment. Loneliness is perfect company; it’ll talk back to you if you let it. Here in the blue, rolling mountains, I am capable of dreaming in a way my hometown suburbia could never permit. The energy always sickened me: gridlock, depressed commuters, pollution of the air and mind. It’s just different here. Tomorrow I’ll call my mom and tell her I want to get my PhD in poetry someday because my most intimidating professor told me I had a terrifying knack for unleashing beauty. I’ll take the transit bus to nowhere with a new friend of mine and let her convince me to adopt a betta fish for my dorm room. I’ll send a handwritten letter to the boy I adored and left behind for a new world unfit for the two of us to remain tethered at the hip. I don’t know what I’ll end up writing yet. I miss you sounds too much like I miss home, as if the sentiments are interchangeable, which I cannot say with integrity. Maybe I’ll ramble on about how I’m trying to become a vegetarian because I care too deeply about the cows I pass when I stroll through the golden pastures, or that I’ve been sucking at making it to Sunday mass, or that I’m letting myself be impulsive with someone who wants (not loves) me because no one’s here to tell me I shouldn’t mess with hands as greedy as his. In my head I’m still walking home, inebriated by dense autumn air and life itself. I know the noodles will be awful. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m turning nineteen in three weeks, and I’m seriously considering getting my nose pierced like the cool girls in my literature classes, and tonight my loneliness does more than just talk back— it sings.

You Deserve a Gold Medal

for cradling my heart in your palms

back when it would still hemorrhage with hate. 

These days I do not rage at life anymore.

I raise my hand before I am called upon. 

I participate in the body electric. 

And when you think of my body

I bet you still think of brutality. 

A fist thrust through crumbled drywall, 

not a single eyelash left to pick, 

a voice hoarse from cursing the entire world 

over and over, constellations of lilac bruises. 

Yet when I think of your body 

I think of the softest place I’ve ever landed. 

A fan to my flame, a miraculous sedative,

a safe nest where I could play baby bird 

and not have to face the thousands

of death sentences I’d write for myself. 

If I could write you a letter 

I’d tell you how gentle I’ve become. 

Like an autumn morning breeze.

Liquid gold honey dripping from a teaspoon. 

A perfect, unfinished sentence. 

Just like you.