Chrysalis

I wake up, but only out of habit,
In a body unfamiliar to yesterday’s goodnight kiss;
Brush a smile onto my face,
Swallow a cup of laugh tracks,
Slip punch lines into my pockets.

This is the calm before the storm,
The moment before the butterfly flutters its wings,
Before the doves are set free, before the dandelion seeds take flight;
When we have not yet grasped that existence is just another art to master-
We ask questions we know the answers to just to stall for time.

I call you my sister, but there is no blood linking us.
It must be, that we’ll do anything to make this world seem smaller-
Find mutual friends in every person we meet,
Leave out Jupiter when drawing the solar system;
There is too much time, there is not enough time.

Friend, we are flames trapped within water droplets.
Of course the first time you dreamt about the ocean, it was a nightmare.
There is still sand around your nails where polish should be,
Lipsticks spilling over Cupid’s bow,
Skirts that dismiss our hips and pool at our ankles.

I am afraid of the way my body fits into the air around me,
My palms weighing so heavy even when I am holding nothing.
This is a first for me, but not for him;
Afterwards, I sit for hours on the kitchen tile,
My tongue taking up too much space in my mouth,
Thinking about ex-boyfriends just to remind this body it was once loved.

At home, I tell my mother I am feeling lost.
“Child, of course you are.
It’s not like you’ve done it before,
This life thing-
Of course you’re still figuring it out.”

Advertisements

Eve

It takes her exactly 365 days to both
Forget the previous year and
Prepare for the next
Every time

2017

On the day my heart first broke
Lorde decided to release ‘Green Light’,
And to not listen to the silence, I played it on repeat,
The same way my mind relentlessly agonised over why he left,
Eventually accepting I must have been his mistake.

This was the year I became afraid of my own company;
Found comfort listening to the 2AM construction work
Just to know something could quash the clamour of my thoughts.
Fell in love with body parts; lips, tongues, fingers, and
Hungry hands looking for a once-off snack.

For so long I would rip myself into a thousand pieces,
Hold out my palms, only to catch shards of glass,
Stared into broken mirrors until I no longer recognised myself.
Drew self-portraits from the way rain drops joined together on windows
Echoing how my tears fell over and over again.

Told, but never believed
I will be happy.

2018

On the day my heart first broke
Lorde decided to release ‘Green Light’,
And to not listen to the silence, I played it on repeat,
The same way my mind relentlessly agonised over why he left,
Eventually accepting I must have been his mistake.

This was the year I became afraid of my own company;
Found comfort listening to the 2AM construction work
Just to know something could quash the clamour of my thoughts.
Fell in love with body parts; lips, tongues, fingers, and
Hungry hands looking for a once-off snack.

For so long I would rip myself into a thousand pieces,
Hold out my palms, only to catch shards of glass,
Stared into broken mirrors until I no longer recognised myself.
Drew self-portraits from the way rain drops joined together on windows
Echoing how my tears fell over and over again.

Told, but never believed
I will be happy.

On and On

Friend, I know you are tired.
I know you have been tired since you learnt that the Earth is round,
And you can only run so far before you start coming back again.
It is exhausting to watch it orbit the sun every single day,
Dragging the moon in its wake-
Even after all these years, no one has gotten any closer.

I think,
This is getting too heavy,
The way the ocean always cries wolf to the moon
For its waves to be pulled to safety.
Maybe one day the moon will finally know better;
Maybe one day water molecules will have to learn to jump.

I think,
This is getting too repetitive,
The way leaves always start out green
But end up orange before they fall.
Maybe one day winter will grow impatient and cut the queue;
Maybe one day spring will forget to grow them altogether.

You tell me about how you hate dusk,
The way it so selfishly siphons the light away,
Leaves darkness pressing down like a cafetière.
In an attempt to be brave,
You act nonchalant about the moon’s absence tonight.
I think, you must be afraid the sun will forget to rise come dawn-
That’s why you can’t sleep these days,
That’s why you keep watch all night.

Scientists say if the Earth suddenly stopped spinning,
Everything would  be swept away into the atmosphere;
You, me, everything we’ve ever scrambled to understand.
But for now, it’s expected to continue for at least another billion years-
I wonder how it has the energy.

Oh, but think of our hearts-
How, every time another left,
We declared it irreparable.
Yet our bodies put it together again over and over;
Even after all this time, it continues to beat.
Friend, we will be just fine.

The Angel I Never Knew

In loving memory of Chen Shanjuan

The only photo I’ve seen of you is black and white
But every time I think of you,
I think light-

Like sunlight,
The way it triumphs the night every single morning to rouse my windows
Brushing through my hair, dusting my eyelids awake;
Like candlelight,
My sister’s fingers quivering as she lights yet another Ecoya,
Its flicker caressing her breath, lulling her pupils aglow,
So I wonder if maybe all the light in the world once gathered to hold hands
Just so you could wear it,
And I think,
Nai nai must have had the brightest halo.

I think flight,
The way father and I migrated like birds;
He, 35, packed his life into a suitcase and flew across the ocean,
And I, 18, crossed a sea to take it a step further-
Together spanning three countries,
Never once questioning why we so longed to soar,
And I think,
Nai nai must have owned a sweeping pair of wings.

I wonder if one day we were to somehow meet,
And you saw me for the first time without knowing, you’d recognise me anyway;
Perhaps from the length of my fingers, the slant of my eyes, the swell of my hips,
All speaking inexplicably like home;
If you’d listen to my voice and
Even swathed within another language,
Hear your echo in its timbre.
You see, these legacies must have originated somewhere-
Your heirlooms must have propagated somehow.

Nai nai, I write a lot now.
I spent a childhood listening to father’s stories,
Catching the words that fell from his tongue,
(Were they yours once, I wonder?)
And now I knit my own tales, with my own happily ever afters,
Ones I’ll someday pass on to my children.
But oh, how lovely it’d be if I could alter them instead,
Because if I had the chance to rewrite your story,
I’d have changed the ending a thousand times over.

So from now on, I’ll think white,
The colour of polished enamel.
Maybe I chose a lifetime of fixing smiles,
Just so I could write the way you laughed onto as many faces as possible,
Because if one day
Someone who had known you told me
There was something even vaguely familiar about the curve of my lips,
I don’t think I’d ever stop smiling.

Pieces of You

Still now, I find pieces of myself that belong to you,
Like discovering sand in my pockets long after a trip to the beach,
They burrow in old wounds like grains of salt.

Most of the time, they are quiet, wallflowers amongst the party of my memories.
Introverted, as if they are ashamed to exist;
She’s suffered enough, they must think.
Letting her forget we’re here, this much we can do for her.

Other times, they are confused,
They ask after you-
Why they have not seen you in a while,
If you’ve been well, when you’ll be back,
But I don’t know how to tell them you’re not returning;

So instead, I talk about breaking up,
How it looks like the place we met, the one that has since closed.
Sounds like your favourite song, the one the radio loves to play.
Tastes like your name, and anyone who shares it.
Smells like my lobby, where someone else wears your cologne.
You were the first one to touch my lips, after all,
And every time I kiss now it feels like break-up.

Then there are days when they unravel, snake around my lungs;
On hazy mornings after waking from a dream about you,
When I have never been more disappointed to see sunlight,
They dig their nails into my brain like an archaeologist willing for the past to reignite.
When you post a photo with a prettier girl who shares my smile,
One my wilted muscles have long forgotten how to write,
They sink their teeth into my heart like canines who have just learned how to bite.

There are evenings when I bump into you on the street,
Almost as if we’d planned to meet,
And they plead at me to reach out and hug you.
On nights when I cling to tequila like a lifeline,
They scream at me to call you,
Reciting a series of numbers I’d long since forced myself to forget,
And every time I pull me back into myself, I know I have won a battle
But somehow, this feeling is anything but victorious.

You see, I don’t know how to open the door to these pieces without letting your smile leave too;
The one, I am ashamed to admit, I still use to keep warm on bitter winter nights.
I don’t know how to cut these pieces out without tearing myself apart in the process.

On better days, I sing lullabies to the pieces of you as I tuck them in at night;
About love, about how it’ll return someday.
It may have a little less height, but hug a bit more tight, smile a fraction more bright, and feel oh-so more right.
Sometimes love can adjourn, take a turn, leave a burn, but love will always return.
And sometimes, I can almost believe it myself.

4’33”

I wish you had tried to fight.
You see, I am the daughter of a soldier-
Fighting is all I know how to do.
Until the rivers run empty, until the mountains stand crumbled,
I will learn to swim on dry land, I will learn to climb thin air.

That’s why when I felt you shrinking away, I fought to fill up the space.
See, I stepped up for you, stretched myself thin for you, put myself out there for you.
I talked to make up for your stillness,
Throwing sentences at a blank wall that never bounced back,
Until I grew sick of my own voice.
Until I realised
I’d never be able to find the words to make you stay.

It was the night neither of us were completely sober.
We held hands in the back of a taxi, but only out of habit;
There was nothing left to say except admit that maybe this was the end,
So we opted for silence instead.

And now we sit in the storm, faces wet;
Yours from the rain, and mine not.
I beg the thunder to be quiet, for fear of missing you speak.
Please, break the silence, instead of my heart.
I promised myself I’d give us one last wish,
And now it’s 11:07.

Four minutes thirty-three seconds left to tell me you need me,
You can’t live without me;
Until the rivers run empty, until the mountains stand crumbled,
Tell me you will still love me.
I am still yours, I don’t know how not to be.

So at 11:11, I shut my eyes and start to wish,
But the clock ticks over to 11:12 before I can finish.
When I ask you later why you didn’t fight,
You tell me you could have,
But it probably wouldn’t have been worth it.

And perhaps you’re right.
Because you see, I once crossed all my fingers, made a wish on every star I laid eyes on-
Until the rivers run empty, until the mountains stand crumbled.
But maybe the sky got confused, and crossed our stars instead.

Confessions

You tell me about a dream you had last night;
How you couldn’t remember it,
But you woke up with a heavy feeling on your chest-
So I know it was about him.

Do you still think about him?
Sometimes… but only before I sleep.
Because you won’t remember it the next morning?
No, so maybe he’ll pass through into my dreams.

You say how whenever you’re in a crowd and you catch his scent,
Even now, you still stop to look around, convinced he’s near you.
I tell you thousands of men must wear that cologne.
I know, but still.

So I ask if you believe in parallel universes, in alternate endings.
Yes, I like to think that whatever I didn’t get in this universe exists somewhere in another.
Then there’s a universe out there where you and him are together?
Of course, of course,
Maybe there are multiple universes where we are together.
Do you ever wish that this was one of them?

But you don’t reply.
Instead, you tell me you think you are too fragile for happiness;
The exhilarating kind, the kind that shoots through like an electrical current-
There’s no other way to explain why I screw it up every time.

I ask if you are afraid of the next one.
Sometimes I think I don’t even want there to be a next one.
You say what you fear most now is to see him on the streets one day, his arm around someone else,
The smile on her face so familiar, it wears almost like home-
I was her once, you know,
I had her smile too.

And what would you say to him?
I wouldn’t.
I don’t know how to talk to him without accidentally letting him know I still love him.
But if he already knew?

In another universe, I might have been happy for you,
If only I could convince myself that you are not my perfect ending.