the white sheen of blank paper excites me
until it appears; and then it is only ever
a clenching in my stomach: such an easy
giving up. I give up too easily.

in my dreams, I am still lost, and blurry,
my edges pencilled in like forgotten things
and my feet standing on something soft
and infinitely breakable: somewhere along
the crawling away from death I forgot
what certainty feels like.

I am trying to remember, and also learn,
what it feels like to write a good poem,
what the balance is in between
casual words
and words that hold the world within them
fiercely. how do I make something sacred?
is it the practised ease or the rioting genius?
is it the straight pencil lines I fill in blindly?

I worry, and I worry about worry.
I am able to call my anxieties
but I never want to call my sadness
a bigger word. nomenclature mocks me.
it is only ever self-diagnosis, and so many
kinds of self-doubt, crawling under my spine
like ugly things. I want to be a river of calm,
but sometimes I find a secret snarl at the back
of my throat. I do not know if I can live here.

I want to think of this as practised ease and an
unhesitant beauty, but it is also always just
casual words.
I once told myself I was the only true audience
I would find, and that thought makes me sad today.
I am a terrible, over-thinking, self-validating audience
for myself. perhaps for everybody.

I am learning how to love, and it is as easy as it is
hard. the simple things feel vast, like whole lifetimes
of this moment. the strange uncontainable joy of falling
asleep next to a warm body, knowing that your
fragility is, for once, in the fragile hands of another.
it's all self-destructing, but at least it feels
human, feels like love, feels like a dream.

I am feeling things in tidal waves
this time around: the highs are hopeful and I feel
as though I can blossom in ways that I never knew;
but the lows are snarling and dangerous and feel like
insidious holes that I could slip into like a shadow.
it would be so quiet and comfortable. in a hole,
there would be so much less to worry about.
only the silence, and the sadness
which wraps around you like a shawl.
winter kept us warm, covering
earth in forgetful snow...
new words speak to me each time and tell me
how to map my mind. I am a strange city.

I am afraid of writing
because I know I can do it.
I am afraid of giving myself to this vast world
and I am afraid of its disinterest in my small bones
and trembling fears and pouting silences.
love me, love me harder.
love me until I can find a way out
of a ruined city and a chessboard forest.

I love myself
but it won't do.
you must do it for me.
I will name you
and you can carry me through
to an ocean that I will call
only through absence. do it.

once the words are spilled out of me
like ink, they leave no trace. I do not ever
remember writing these stains into my skin.


in Phnom Penh

At the edge of the street where we sat over salad,
three children got in a brawl. A girl with a basket full of trinkets
tied to her waist, and a weeping toddler.
As he howled and kicked, his wire frame full of glass bangles
flew across the sky and scattered fragments
all over the curb. Later, alone, he sat by the tyre of a car
and looked at his empty hands.
The bustling streets of Cambodia had no space for his grief. The riverside
sprawled out like a dirty postcard.
Four days into an unknown country, the inevitable happened:
a man, perhaps drunk, sauntered over
with his eyes on my hesitant naval.
Where are you from, he asked my terrified stomach. Hey, lady. Where are you from.
Walking fiercely down the street, I could hear his footsteps behind me
as sure as his sleazy smile. I wondered
if he ever did this to the white women who visited,
their navels and shoulders and bikini strings carelessly given over to the city.
Even after the music in the open square, the sky blossoming with leftover light,
everything tasted of shattered glass;
the mug of beer with a chipped edge,
the quiet desperation that comes with vulnerability
or love. I filled my mouth with smoke

until my hands shook. 


The Living

I keep thinking of those lines from Marie Howe's poem.
"This is what the living do", she wrote. "This is it" --
the driving, the thinking, the deep blue sky, the silly mistakes
of an endless everyday. The words wrench something heavy
from my chest, leave me heaving silently on my seat.
The plane cuts through a solid city of clouds, and I
tell myself again: "This is what the living do". Watch clouds,
magnificent as towers and forests and mountains, glorious
snow-white shapes against the deep blue distance of sky.
This is it, the strange spectacle of the everyday that
my grandmother will never see again.

If I had more faith, perhaps I would imagine her in a space
much like this. A landscape of pearly white, the clouds settled
in the sky like dreams, and my grandmother looking unbelievably
serene, perhaps in a white sari, carrying on dignified conversation
with the angels. I cannot see it. I cannot believe. I cannot hear her
footsteps in the dark, or her voice, or the ringing of the telephone.
My house is a strange sort of empty, a singular portion of grief.
She is not here either -- among the cliffs and bowers of cloud,
or the tender wisps of rain, or the dark thunder, or the clear sky.
Thirty thousand feet in the air, higher even than Everest; even here
I do not see it, even here there is no heaven, no safe space
where her pale skin or jewelled toenails will be granted
permanent existence. Even here, there is only the strange circular
poetry of the everyday, the man next to me snoring gently, a child
fascinated by the window shades, my own mind an overfull carnival.

Sometimes it feels like an endless loss: these mundane moments
strung together in compulsion, lives that we carve out of smoke.
Time lies ahead of me like an endless desert, and I am afraid.
The clouds now look like sculptures, and now like countries
cut off from the sea. She will see none of it -- but here I am,
my nose chilled by the air conditioning, my left foot asleep,
watching cities emerge like secrets on the vast earth below.
"This is what the living do", I murmur, keeping the words
in my mouth as though they can save me from the ordinary
desperation of living. Somehow, they do. This is what we do,
circle the same stories of loss in our minds, worry incessantly.
This is it, the whole strange business of living. Remembering
the bruise of a lover's lips on my neck, or familiar conversations
with my mother. We grieve endlessly over the inevitable griefs.
We are living. We remember. We watch these floating cities
of clouds, and sometimes feel an immense and intricate giddiness
in our bellies, some sort of lucidity, a precious and private gold.
That is all we can ask for.



there is a certain hard look
                              that I wear on my face.

I wish I didn't.

there is a blade of truth
                               that hides under my tongue.

someday, I will get angrier
                                        at you
                                              than you will allow me to.

here, on the edge of things,
                                    it is slippery.
                                             the blade cracks like glass.
                                                      the sky shatters.


rainy evening I

you woke me up, and
we’re here now. I write poetry
in the damp insides of my mouth
and try not to break your
overfull heart.

the sky shudders and darkens. I hide
behind a bower in the mango tree, and smoke
a lonesome cigarette. the smoke is a silver thread
the wind pulls out of my mouth. like a secret poem.

listen, I still don’t know
whether I’m living okay. but I have words
like loose change in my pockets, and dreams
the size of cities. light slants onto my 
fingers and paints them gold.

my mother and I are listening
to the music you sent me. some of it
leaves me billowing, larger than the frame
of my little bones. a rag left in the wind
that expands to the size of a sea.

in the distance, I hear a train rumble.
the sky is quiet now, it has spent its fury.
everything is dewdrops and damp skin and light.
the lost birds start to call to me again. I tell them

to wait. to go on. to find me again.



At breakfast, I try to keep my grief off the table.
I eat my slice of melon, look silently about the room,
watch morning unfold hazily in the front garden.

Behind me, a large picture frame has frozen
my grandmother's warm face into ice. My father
lights an agarbatti every morning to help it thaw, 
his mouth sombre under his flyaway hair and
sleepy eyes, in t-shirt and boxer shorts.

I try not to wear grief on my face. It is 8:30 am.
She has been dead five months now. I still forget.
Grief slips into my voice and makes it ragged;
I sip tea to soothe the tears I hide in my throat.
I burn my tongue, try not to drown.

My grandfather has small dark spots on his face,
like so many constellations. Three moles near his
left eye that make Orion's Belt. A shadow on his
jawline like the North Star. He is thoughtful --
or distracted, silent either way.

My father tells us the news. I wander, fall between
the cracks in my overworked mind, and end up
somewhere else entirely. Where we are sitting
is exactly where we laid her body, the day after
it happened. Everybody visited. The furniture
was moved out, and the floor covered in white. 
Everybody was weeping. It seems worlds away
from this quiet breakfast scene. To talk about her
now is to skirt an awkward edge, try not to hurt
too hard. Was she ever here? Was it only ever
silent grandfather and bleary-eyed father
at this table, and sometimes me?

Morning routine moves on like clockwork.
It is like every other day, except that I am home
and everything smells like a tragedy. On our way
back from the mountains in the highway dirt,
my sister pointed out a bougainvillea bush
painted sepia in dust -- it looks just like
an old picture, she murmured to me, as if
she was telling me a secret. On the next turn,
I saw a fire burning near a building, silently.
I never told.