Poetry Drinking Game

I played a poetry drinking game today with my friend Matt. We each ordered a drink and took each other’s notebooks. While we drank (and also ate little, delicious cheeses, incidentally), we wrote a poem. When the drinks were done, we copied them in legible scrawl and traded them back. He read my poems aloud, I read his. One more exchange took place and we read our own poems with the lilt and rhythm the author originally intended. Then we played again. And again. The game was brilliant in it’s simplicity (The title of the game ends up self-explaining), simultaneously relaxing (we were not critiquing the other’s works, not agonizing over-much about the construction of our own) and exciting (the dizzying pull of language!). 

Anyway, a bit raw and unfinished, but here’s what I wrote:

I

She sought a metaphor 
in the flower that grew in the junkyard
its filthy leaves pressed heavenward
through rusted yellow coils of 
carburetor and extension wire

As much as the metaphorically resonant
broken window panes in the cathedral
(Through the cracks came
a cold, sensuous wind pricking along
the upturned hairs of her arms)

or the way the trees grow tall 
by feeding on the spoiled remains 
of their own fallen leaves

How these metaphors choke her pen
like bile, when examined twice,
naught but a
weed, a window, a tired tree

Sanctuary
Whether the libations
the language
or my own intoxicating feelings
caused the temporal displacement of body
I’ll never know.
Still, my distilled ether 
fluttered helplessly amongst skeletons
and opalescent chandeliers,
watching myself dissolve
like sugar crystals on the tongue
into the anesthetizing decrescendo of the poetry. 

Toska
The dilemma, 
he said,
is in your indeterminate longing

The dilemma, 
indeed,
lies in my own frustrated ability 
to derive meaning

from even the softest of kisses,
the glint of a child’s razor-sharp teeth
thrown backwards to the sun in 
uninhibited laughter, the crumpled
willow kneeling as if in prayer
at water’s edge;

God himself
a mere existential puzzle
the pieces of which are scattered
over table’s edge,
gathering dust upon the floor,
perhaps stuck beneath my sister’s shoe. 

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Complicated.

OK, so I started to do research on criticisms against Invisible Children so I could articulate more clearly why I do not support them as an organization, and do not support the Stop Kony 2012 campaign. I’ll try to articulate my thoughts more clearly later, but my research has caused me to start asking myself a lot of complicated questions about the nature of Western advocacy and intervention. I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but I know many of my friends are more of experts on the subject than I am. If you have any insight into any of these questions, let me know. Here are some (not all, by any means) of my specific questions:

1. What do you think the role of the west should be in advocacy? Does advocacy make a positive difference? How do we prevent ourselves from advocating for sectarian groups that are also perpetuating violence (ex.  UPDF) ?

2. In what instances do you think that US military intervention is ok (Rwanda and Darfur being most frequently used as an example), or do you think Americans should not be intervening at all?

3. If you support any Western charities in Africa which ones do you support, and why? Do you have a criteria for how you choose those charities? Is supporting any Western charity in Africa automatically imperialist? (I’m serious!)

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New Location, Same Old Blog

A few things:
Blogger unceremoniously and without reason deleted several of my blog posts from the last three months. I had been considering moving my blog over to wordpress, which I believe to be superior to blogger, but that event solidified my decision.

Found this old blog from last November:

I don’t like Romeo and Juliet very much. My brother Ian saw the play for the first time earlier this year and wrote a rather hilarious analysis of it with the thesis being that Romeo and Juliet was a cautionary tale on why teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to date. While not agreeing with his entire treatise of it, I do agree that both protagonists are rather foolish and had they been more cautious and measured in their love they could have avoided the tragedy that befell them.

Still, the last time I saw Romeo and Juliet, I didn’t feel quite as annoyed as I usually do. I felt an unexpected sympathy for poor Juliet, who I felt was simply bursting with a desire to love and be a beloved. She was hungry to the point of falling stupidly in love after a single dance and a few whispered words. This time, instead of feeling my typical incredulity at the whole affair in general, I kept feeling an embarrassing sense of watching my own vulnerable self in the person of Juliet. At 23, I’m still just as susceptible to my own need for romance as Juliet at 13; we both of invent love out of mere instances.

Here’s an example. I wrote this on the bus the other day:

Saint Louis Public Transit

If furtive stares were currency,
I’d be a millionaire.
Three bus rows separate us,
enough that I can’t talk to you
but through my longing eyes.

You laugh to yourself as you read;
I watch your lips twitch twice, then part,
your mouth flung open
like the doors to a church.

Sunlight pours through bus windows,
casting dappled shadows across your palms,
forming a beatific halo behind your dark hair.

—–
I said that I felt sympathy for Juliet this time around. I still don’t like her though, even though I saw more of myself than I have recognized in the past. While Juliet and I are both quick to become infatuated after brief impressions, the Essential Difference still exists: Juliet doesn’t know she’s an idiot. And I do. I do.

—–

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To Adam in Istanbul

A word on this poem before I begin. It is based on a true story, but is not actually “true” in the sense that Adam does not exist as a physical person. The themes of the poem, loving and longing from a distance, the feelings of connectedness to someone through empathetic imagination, are all things I’ve experienced. Adam himself is based off of an amalgamation of a few friends of mine (none of them actually named Adam) as well as a few people who are not friends but I would like to think would be were we to ever be introduced. I normally am not one for introduction to cryptic poetry, believing the meanings to be a bit subjective based on the reader’s interpretation (post modern, I know). However, for friends who read this blog as an update of my life, I don’t want there to be any speculation or assumptions as to my current romantic state. I am not in a relationship with any handsome scholars of Arabic poetry. I’d like to be, but I am not.

Now then.

To Adam in Istanbul

We say our dual prayers
you and I
you coming home at sunset
kicking up yellow clouds of dust as holy offerings
me waking up to search the lonely ceiling cracks
as if hieroglyphs from God.

My days are an echo of your own
Once, you were awoken to the toll of minarets,
Now NPR is bleating me awake with the death rattle
statistics from the Middle East
Once, you blew your breath across the steam rising from your tea
so too will my cold fingers coil around a ceramic mug,
pulling its warmth into my knuckles
Once, your palms got dirty
glazed with the dust motes and ink of ancient Arabic text
Later, white chalk dust will find its way under my fingernails
and across the back pocket of my pants
Once, you gave a dollar to a beggar for rice
Everyday, a homeless man at my bus stop tells me I have a beautiful ass
and drunkenly asks for a kiss
An hour ago, you ate lamb with dill and lemon;
you smoked hookah with college faculty.
Tonight, I will boil noodles and gaze out my window and hum,
or maybe I will eat fruit naked in the bathtub,
or just watch tv and fall asleep,
forgetting to eat anything at all.

But for now
We say our dual prayers
you and I
you coming home at twilight
kicking up yellow clouds of dust as holy offerings
me waking up to search the lonely ceiling cracks
as if hieroglyphs from God.

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Abstract Love

Biking home today I stopped as a young man asked me for directions to the bus.

“I like your hat,” I said, referring to one of those fur-lined Soviet-era proletariat hats that are currently en vogue.

“Mm hm, well I like your swag too,” he said, which made me smile because I looked like a disheveled mess wearing:
a.) My “Arms are for hugging: Love Everyday”  t-shirt,
b.)A dirty green sweater that is fraying at the sleeves and also the collar,
c.) and also a bike helmet two sizes too large that was currently falling down over my entire forehead and into my eyes.

“So where your man at?” he asked me like an invitation.

I paused, thinking. “That’s sort of a complicated question,” I said. “I’m at a place right now where I want theoretically to ‘have a man’ or to ‘be in love’ but I like those ideas more as conceptual abstractions than actualities.  Have you ever been in a relationship, and you are constantly disappointed because the way you feel about the relationship is irreconcilable with the way that you imagined you would feel?   Do you ever worry that the poetry and music you cling to doesn’t really exist in real life, at least not for you as an individual? Do you ever think that maybe the stories you make up about people falling in love are preferable to the way that love actually plays itself out? More and more these days, I find myself longing for the abstraction as much as the real thing. I find myself falling in love with people that I will never actually meet (my current crush is a guy I call Young Ai Wei Wei, who is just like the real Ai Wei Wei–crazy beard and all–except young and Christian and also in love with me), because there’s a bit of self-preservation in loving someone who doesn’t actually exist, than trying to love a real person and being disappointed that it wasn’t at all as glorious as you could imagine. So yeah… my man exists in metaphorical realities constructed of Austen novels, Neruda poems, and messy ink childhood games of MASH.”

Actually, I said none of that. I paused rather awkwardly while these thoughts ran through my head, and then I rolled my eyes and smiled, like, “You are asking the wrong girl, cuz it is so not gonna happen with me.” Unexpectedly, he laughed and laughed. He walked to the bus stop, I biked home. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

Image

Image

PS: Ai Weiwei also thinks biking is pretty cool. This is the FOREVER BIKE exhibition in Taiwan.

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Homesick

I am homesick for Korea.

I have been homesick for over a year, homesick even from the moment my plane took off.  At first I thought that my homesickness was merely contextual, a not wanting to be in St. Louis rather than actually wanting to be in Korea. Some of the things that I miss about Korea are incorporeal anyway. I miss having a sense of purpose to my daily routine that having a full time job and being a student provided. I miss having the power to travel anywhere without having to rely on friends or family, the freedom that public transportation provided to my driving-inept butt. I miss the affection of my students. I miss feeling special as a foreigner. Still, after a year of an unceasing sense of loss, I don’t think that I am merely missing the abstract feelings associated with my stay in Korea; I miss the location itself.

I am homesick for Korea.

Unexpectedly I will be seized by a querulous itch for something in Korea. One day, I miss the cold bite of air that would catch me running up mountain paths. Another time, I miss the taste of red-bean hidden in everything from tea to donuts to ice-cream. I miss the piecemeal green sidewalks. I even long for strange things, like the mingling smells of restaurant trash: pepper, greased chicken, and soured cabbage. I miss the subway beggars who would accompany their pleading orisons with loudspeakers playing sad music. I miss watching the girls who would dress in heels and fur and a glash of lipstick simply to go to morning classes.

I am homesick for Korea.

The most poignant ache is of course for the people. I miss everyone I knew, from my buoyant and bright students, to Tae Chun, the palsied old man I would buy tangerines from (We spoke mostly though smiles and handshakes and eyes that wished we could say more).  I can honestly swear that not a day goes by that I do not stop and remember my friends in Korea, wonder how they are, want pressingly to see them.

I am homesick for Korea.

When I was a little girl, I would try to go to sleep at night by imagining myself holding everyone I knew. In my mind’s eye, I would be sitting on a giant chair, and all of my family would be sitting on my lap. I would walk down my street, plucking my friends from their houses, and sitting them down beside me. I would imagine little children I had babysat curling up in my pockets, my father’s friends sitting awkwardly next to me, not sure how to handle their tobacco pipe and beers in this newly crowded condition of the chair. The memory of the chair came to me unexpectedly in the midst of pangs of homesickness for Korea. I sat down again, and remembered gathering everyone into myself. I remembered being comforted as a child, imagining my chair and my lap ever-expanding to hold more and more people. In some ways, I still do that. I close my eyes, and pull memory upon memory of Korea before me, basking in the collective glow of so many people to love and be loved by…

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Thoughts from Places

I don’t like to travel. Actually, I love to travel, but I don’t like to visit. I like to go to a place and try to make it fully known. I like to go to a place and live, to lay down roots and spread my dendritical fingers through the dirt of the city. When I travel, I don’t want a five-minute chit-chat with a place, I want an hour-long discussion deep into the night until my body sags and my eyes are dry and blinking at the dark. To do any less would feel like a conversation cut short.

I once met the perfect man. I was at a bookstore in the theology section trying to find a particular book. I couldn’t understand how the books were organized, so I couldn’t find the one I was looking for. I was wondering if I should just grab a book by Lewis and sit down and read when I saw a body kneeling beside me. I looked over at a young man about my age, thin and quiet, running a lone finger across the book titles the way I had just done. He carried a guitar.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I’m looking for a book, but I can’t figure out how they are arranged. Do you know?”

He pointed to a large plaque that had the answer. “Alphabetically by author, I’d imagine he said,” and I nearly gasped. He was Irish. I was standing in the theology section of a book store with an Irish musician. I fumbled for words (the lyrics to Sound of Settling went through my head: I sit and wonder of all the loves that could have been, if I only thought of something charming to say.) “Ah, I should probably go look up my author’s name,” I said. When I came back, he was gone. It felt monumentally unfair, to have met such a person and not be allowed to talk to them.

The day after I met the bookish Irishman, I flew to New York to visit my brother. Before I went, I thought that I would do the tourist thing: spend a couple of hours at the Met, visit the Empire State Building, take a photo with the Statue of Liberty, buy a paper umbrella in Chinatown. I did none of these things. I spent most of my days wondering around the city, either with my brother or by myself. One morning, I sat in the park and talked to a violinist about the Midwest and Shubert. He played me a serenade and said it was good to talk to someone from back home. Later that night, I played M.A.S.H in Washington Square with a Senegalese actress who made extra money by selling roses (she gave me one for free in exchange for the game, I put it in a green beer bottle next to my brother’s sink). One day I found a church near Wall-street that played one hour of Bach on the Organ; In the midst of a city of eight million, I sat listening with only two other people (a strong Italian man in his thirties who sat patting the back of his ancient wheel chair-bound grandmother). Exhausted from walking the city, I walked into The Strand bookstore and stayed for five hours, reading and reading and wandering at such an impossible number of books gathered into a single place. I have more stories, but too many to fill up this finite space. I left after five days, and it felt like my brief encounter with the Irish musician. I hungered for so much more than our few exchanged words, my shy glances. I didn’t want to flirt with the city, I wanted to know the city.

I have once said that a city, like a person, slowly reveals its personality over a long period of time. You learn its beauty, its culture, its history, its music, its passions. You learn its ugly, its racisms, its violence, its pee-drenched subways, its gray mold growing on old red brick, its moody weather. I have lived in St. Louis for fifteen years, and I know it like my family. Yet there are still fathoms of St. Louis that are unknown to me, corners I’ve never seen, people I’ll never meet. So if fifteen years is too short a time to truly know a place  how can I ever hope to know a place after only a week, or even three months (the time I spent in Seoul) or as long as a year? Should I re-examine my stance and be satisfied with a brief look, a coy phrase or two before I graze my finger-tips over the walls of the next town? With all the places my heart aches to go—the Badenoch Mountains, Rio, Nairobi, Calcutta, Osaka, Jeju Island, Holland, Stuttgart, Java,  even just Maine for goodness’ sake—I have too little time to spend for us to know one another.

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