spring cleaning

spring in this city always has me blooming
pollen, an aphrodisiac that waters my eyes
last night i let myself dream for the first time since the flowers frosted
and when i woke up the sunlight had already chilled
it keeled at my feet, a field of canola someone forgot to harvest

i think, i must be growing
the other night i drank until i thought it was a good idea
to lie down on a train track i was only half sure was abandoned
and still, i didn’t speak your name
it must have something to do with this mown grass balm

my muscles, no longer straining to pull my lips into a curve
the heart, still sprinting, but now with a destination
in mind, my brain entertaining hobbies other than second-guessing
and tongue and teeth, both have finally stopped jostling for space
to remind my mouth it should sometimes try speaking

i let juvenescence oscillate so urgently against my palms
my mother tells me
hey young one, it’s ok to squander your youth sometimes
so i make the mistake of falling in love over and over
just to remind myself some things never change

but i will have a daughter one day, and i will name her after this season
the way my mother was named for all the promise a tender bud cradles
i will teach her about vivaldi, and monet, and woodsworth
give her petals to scatter with every step she takes
so she can always find her way back home


red light

waking up, a head beside yours
(blame salome if you must)
and you know it was not a dream
him, hand spanning the length of your insecurities
and you, starving enough to accept even stale attention

afterwards, take two showers, one after another
vanilla and raspberry milk
scrub his handprints from your body
but your skin still wears like smudged glass
still smeared with cigarette streaks

woman, when did your love become so cheap?
waste tom ford on his goon-flavoured lips
a marathon body on his unwashed hands
phds on his patriarchal mind
he slurs that you’re pretty, and you tell him you love him

how many more needle pricks before the wound is stitched
how many more cheap thrills to hit your self-worth
look at you, so tired of the scratch of black lace
volunteering yourself as an answer
to questions he never had the right to ask

tell yourself you feel cherished this way
but i know you haven’t ever felt cheaper
he breaks in, and you thank him for visiting
letting them take you, have you, own you
never asking to stay, to be kept

call it selfless, if nothing else

millennial pink

we sip vodka sunrises at midnight
you are one-hundred-and-twenty-two days from 18
and i, forty-seven
men pass and whistle at our cling-wrap skirts
and i have never felt more like a woman

you grab my hand and we sprint through the city
through red lights and intersections
baby giraffes in 12cm stilettos
it is so pretty to have a laugh that tastes like candy-floss
looks as unicorn as our frappuccinos

this night is about us – this month, this lifetime
it is an art you know, to wrap things around our fingers
even when are hands are full – darling,
we are so good at making our business everyone else’s concerns
the world at our feet, still learning how to kneel

everything is pastel now, soft of hue
the world bruises our rose-petal skin
with shades too vivid, so we close our eyes
build exposed brick walls and keep this oblivion idyllic
too busy feeling sorry for ourselves to ever apologise

the first time i let him kiss me, his teeth bite my lips
tells me it’s so soft, and i convince myself i like it
later, his licked words soil my white dress
leaves mud streaks on my ivory canvas
insists there is no point staying clean in a world so dirty

mama tells me soon this limelight will start to taste sour
the blue light will finally feel too cold
but for now i just want to dance like them
this mind is too feathered for grating ideas
and everything is lighter without thoughts, be thoughtless

it is exhausting to be anything but conventional, you know


when he first sees her, his lips are already stained
claret, from the scores of girls he’s drunk in tonight.
she serves her name to him in a crystal flute
all clinks and bubbles, and he tells her
he has never known one before.

i want to take her by the stem, say
woman, you have waited an eternity
oak and steel, to be kissed by a man
the right way, who swirls
twirls, legs dancing to all the right rhythms.

he has been waiting for a fruit like this
the way your light body sways.
amber eyes, floral bouquet-
his tongue has been dry for a while
but darling, riesling, you are all sugar.

it’ll be love at first sip, of course
something that balances this lush, this crisp
tannin, cinnamon, tucked away for later.
he will learn that soon and for it
keep you close, maybe even ask for more.

it is easy, to find home in someone
whose fingers wrap like vines around you but
oh, remember that he is a seasoned sommelier
and soon enough, like he’s done so many times already
he will spit you out, of course he will.

so woman, show him how you leave.
tip-toe off his palate but let your shadow linger
long after your body has left, leave a trace
but not enough for him to find his way back to you
and one day, i promise, he will come to taste his mistake.

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.