May 10, 2010

Untitled | Cynthia Arrieu-King

My poetry asks what happens when the other speaks rather than merely being named. Other implies the one others’ have been talking over, obliterating with utterance. My Other might be an actress who is really – but only for a split second -- a man. My other might not want to talk to you and be given voice; that, ironically, is her most express message, her right to silence. My mother speaks in my poems. My grandmother speaks in my poems. A fictional Frenchman speaks in my poems. Gender is just a dial for my speakers. I’m more interested in what they say about silence and names and authenticity of subject position.

When I was little, my father quoted Confucius to me: “Visitors are like fish, after three days they stink.” Yes, I eventually realized that actually he was quoting Ben Franklin. I realized that all that solemn quiet that made me obedient and therefore faithful to my father’s wishes was ridiculous. Additional big reveal: My stern shrewd father whom we all obeyed had been a loud impossible brat! Authenticity of gender and the sheer power of gender implies a test: that the unknown identity will be verified. That an angry rebellious Other will be welcomed into the home. That he or she will speak, that somehow, we gauge power by what is seen rather than through the invisible.

When your family has been split in two by a war, the gold standard can’t be converted. Understanding grows impossible. I resist by insisting that the complete picture, the solid identity is impossible. The experiment has failed. The narrative is deceased. This is my broken record. I share it with Cha’s foggy battlefield, Berssenbrugge’s cornfield that changes color as you ascend the hill, with Juliette Lee’s fracturing of missive forms and corporate language, with Kristin Naca’s slaughtered pig.

These poems were written while I was in transit or very quickly. “Census” was written while I was on a bus and a train: I texted the lines to myself, parsing what I was seeing on the bus with what I had been thinking for days about being in two places at once. This comes from my being half Asian and half European.

The other poem, “Assumed Name” was written instantaneously one morning about how naming can be an unhelpful, disintegrating concept. How Rilke was right when he wished we would “become strong too and not need names.” How we – I’ll dare say we – intersect with Asian-American poetry, or gendered poetry, and resist saying it’s easy, resist presuming to know that stranger: to listen.



I cover my head so as not to be counted.

Yellow saffron died in its husk. The pony moves to the edge of an index,

bottles piled high in this office.


Half this, half that. Sidespeak and undercut: who built

the fucking pier planked out to the nausea?

River updwelling dun against a slower current,

sun along the earth’s profile, profile of the mountain half sunny half dark.

Needing some new vetiver scent to cover the old sparkle of parsley and gunk.


We know each thing as the version of an idea.

We know each thing as the version of an ideal, made, broadening.

Have you not stuck the ice cream in club soda, for fun?


When the girl gets on the bus with her blonde

mother and African father

I notice her straw hat covering her hair,

a water bottle dropped on her head

rolls off. She looks at me. She

looks at my face. Too long. I’m a mix. She’s a mix.

She looks again, wants something. Confirmation. This whole

exposure to a sun beams hard.


Her brother pulls her suitcase to the filth.

She stares at him. He looks afraid.

They are like two animals in a documentary ready to chase.

She bolts toward him. He lunges away but she wrenches his arms

So violently I worry children live vulnerable like ponies

Near barbed wire, or barbed wire within.

The mother says, don’t do it,

Her luggage precedes her, red and dusty.


Hang back, kid. Each day the earth’s dues

fly dimes of light,

some referenced asphodel,

the difficulty of sticking with one love,

one mind. Teeming in the sea.

Bivalves made of smaller stardust. We, too.

Whether or not rainbows shoot out

your eyes, you’re a quiver in the boundary

And what’s left but to say

I’m from here.

I’m from here.

Assumed Name

The sea lived with an assumed name that stands for real too.

Verifiable commonness, the vowels a way of hiding.

That and the fridge booming out its noise every hour

while a corporation filled in the hello my name is sticker.

If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do

by some immense storm we would become strong too

and not need names he said to a blue robe thrown

lank in the dryer, now leaving drifts of blue lint indoors.

I’ve spent my life referring to maps, trying to split myself, be

present to win an entire Tri-State. The car held its mirror

so we’d stop multitasking, and concentrate on a direction.

The robe said whatever and started to split across a particular

seam, riding round in that heat drum. It was big enough

I could wear it naked to sleep and dream into a pizzeria

dazed, look straight at the man behind the counter, and what,

he says what size the salad, and his eyes ask are you really here—

this countryside the sun shone on to make the lettuce,

what hauled it here, the road spelling a word that makes no sense.


Cynthia Arrieu-King is an assistant professor of creative writing at Stockton College. Her book People are Tiny in Paintings of China is forthcoming from Octopus Books. Her poems and other work will come out this year in Boston Review, Witness, Jacket, Harp and Altar, Forklift Ohio, and with Kristi Maxwell in the new horse less press anthology New Pony. Marilyn Chin sent her to Kundiman when she visited the University of Cincinnati in 2006.

The Gold Soldier | Yael Villafranca


There is a woman walking along an empty street at night. We are following her. She’s dressed in black; her hair is black, her low, scuffed heels are black. Hanging from her left wrist, a slim purse. Houndstooth grey and black. It is an hour when no one should be awake, so quiet we can hear her feet scrape the pavement, the electric hum of streetlights. We can almost hear her breathe.

She has wrapped several gold bracelets around her right wrist. All of them fine chains, some bearing charms, some empty. They rest on her skin like cousins or sisters. They glint as she moves.


The widow chain smokes by the pool. She has me wait til she finishes her coffee and tuna sandwich and the dishes are cleared away, then waves me over to her table with a manicured red claw. My seat faces the sun and I am smothered with light and heat and her jasmine perfume. My temples feel like the taut elastic of a slingshot. The widow lights up again. ‘Lasing ka ba, iha? Hindi ba medyo maaga pa?’ Her eyebrows are penciled in such arches they float above her mock disapproval. ‘Kaarawan ko po, Tita.’ She laughs like a shout. Her hair is a coarse cloud of reddish brown from a bottle. ‘Talaga, ha. Sige, bibigyan kita ng birthday discount.’ She shuffles the long deck, cigarette clamped between her thin red lips. The tops of her knobby hands are three shades darker than her powdered face. Over her shoulder, a girl in a pink and yellow suit swims the width of the pool, head underwater, one hand pressed to the wall. A grey haired man treads water and shouts at her to let go. He is loud, but not unkind. ‘O, ito na.’ The widow places the stack of cards between us. I cut them once, twice, a third time. She gathers them again and runs her hand across the table, the cards gliding down in a perfect line. ‘Pumili kang lima.’ I do. ‘May tanong ka ba?’ I tell her. She opens all the cards at once. There are no words, only swirling illustrations that remind me of mah jong tiles. I have a golden bird flying over water, an open poppy, a bridge or a fortress, a sea, a blue bird flying over trees. The widow sucks her dentures and smokes. ‘Isang babae muna.’


Sending in a letter to tell them what happened to you. I never told the soldiers how I’d been grieving over you. If you hear it maybe you will know. When you hear the line about. You’ll think about the two of us and you’ll come home. I can’t ignore the event of your departure. But just to say I know you are not only this. And not only the recovery subsequent to this. And not only the remittances & the opinion pieces & the travel documents attendant to this. But your life. If you knew just how I felt why’d you make me wait. Life goes on and on while you play with my heart. I would’ve wanted to meet you at the gate because we share a family. We spent time in the same village. Desert city garden. Don’t hold out any longer cause now I know how you are more than real. Cause I heard it really loud cause they said it on the air. That you stow your grownup songs and dances in the overhead compartment to stave off amnesia on the flight. That these are later transmitted and received via hunger, thirst, and the passing of lanterns. That the diffusion of light cannot be arrested.


It was reported that she carried a wicked bolo in her purse. And she once pressed its tip almost to the point of breaking into the adam’s apple of a man seven inches taller than her at a bar while her friend brought the car around.

In fact, it was only five inches. A favorite pair of boots with modest heels.


The cellist drove a beaten clattering tank. There were no seatbelt buckles in the backseat, the passenger window closed up to one last inch of open air, and where the radio used to live was now an extra compartment stuffed with receipts, sticky pennies, and glossy fliers for various club events where they only played Top 40. I would stand on the stairs and watch him untangle and wear a discreet pair of headphones. Though he knew I still hadn’t gone inside, the car door had closed and I was no longer present. He would drive away without so much as a wave. I would watch the grey tank until it turned right at the corner.

Most of the time, the playwright sees me off on the bus, even when I say he doesn’t have to. From the back windows, I catch him crossing the street, hands in his pockets. The set of his mouth has shifted to solitude. His alone face. I think of the bare walls in my room, how my clothes twist around each other and spill out of suitcases. I think of the white walls in his room. The words he struck into the space above his bookshelves and tried to paint over. They remain there, faded through the layers of white. Anyone can read them.


Through her thick yellowing lenses, the seamstress peers at the tape she has looped around my waist. The black dress I wanted taken in last week refuses to close. She clucks her tongue, releases the tape. Her blue housedress flutters around her bony legs as the electric fan rotates in our direction. ‘Take it off, take it off. Leave it here, I won’t charge you.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Unlucky dress.’ She takes a long yellow skirt down from a rack and brings it to her table; someone else’s alteration. I open my mouth for a polite argument. She says, ‘That baby doesn’t want to grow in a woman who cries all the time. Stop seeing those people, stop going to those places. And don’t wear anything again you have wept in more than once.’


Someone is leaning against a fence a few doors down from his/her lover’s house. She/he holds her/his face inside her/his palm. This person is

A. Me

B. My mother

C. My father

D. My natural father


Pagka talikod niya, binigyan siya ng Diyos ng bagong puso.


This happened again and again over the course of the following years:

A. 1976, 1985, 1997

B. 1984—1991

C. 1997, 2007, 2008, 2009

D. 2011, 2023, 2072


We know there was an only son.

How many daughters?

There is a woman walking along an empty street at night.

[Alternate Ending]

They predicted you, Josefina.

You were the first of us to make it back.


Yael Villafranca is a poet, an organizer with Babae San Francisco/GABRIELA-USA, and a student at the University of San Francisco. She was a Kundiman fellow in 2008 and studied with Aimee Nezhukumatathil. She has work appearing in Bindlestiff Studio's upcoming Bakla Show 2010, running the first two weekends of June at the Thick House in San Francisco. You can find more information at

To Love, To a Justice of the Heart: Ruminations on A Feminist Poetics of My Own | Purvi Shah

Because my words drip with arzoo as much as longing.

Because the ocean is full of tanhayee as much as thirst.

Because the heart’s drum insists on beating, in this language, in that language, in the quiver of wind, in the heat of destination, in the certainty of journey, the uncertainty of migration.

In our circles, love poems have gone out of fashion. Being a feminist has gone out of fashion. Beckoning justice has gone out of fashion. Having faith, believing in something has gone out of fashion.

This world so large, our hands so small. What changes can we mortals make? What yearnings can we transform even to partial satiation? The coal of this earth is yet coal. And yet, somewhere the revolutionary, the housewife, the poet sees carat in coal, sparkle in surrender.

These days it is easy to believe love – especially the writing of love poems – has very little place in our post-modern, post-colonial, post-structural, post-secular, post-financial collapse, post-nation-state, post-cynical, post-poetic world.

We reside in irony. Which is to say, we do not reside at all. We only travel and trade in ambivalences.

Having been one who has journeyed – from India to the U.S.; from the U.S. South to the U.S. Midwest to the U.S. Cosmopolitan Capital – I find my home in poetry that speaks to the troubled questions and injustices of the world through a language which, I hope, evokes beauty, love, consanguinity, and feeling.

I do have poems that speak to domestic violence, female feticide, unbending gender roles, the labor of immigrants, being South Asian in a post-9/11 world, being South Asian in a pre-9/11 world: in sum, a world’s convexed inequities. From what I have witnessed, these poems often leave readers or listeners stunned, immobile, in grief, pensive, outraged.

It is my love poems, though, which I believe often leave my readers and listeners realizing that they have re-discovered a quiet part of themselves, as if they had found a dusty photo album from youth, shook off the present, and surrendered to the urge to dream, the quest to believe, the desire to hold and to be powerful. In short, the longing to love and be loved.

Perhaps it is Bollywood of me, or Dickinsonian of me, or Whitmanian of me, but in this longing, I find joy. I find justice. I find home. And together with my audience, in this longing shared, a conversation, a living with, a keeping company with, a vision

of the world as

we want

it, the world

as we dare

to dream it, a world

as we seek

to live it.


We could listen to the way flowers

open like thunder, the bold unfurling

to begin, the spreading, a drum

scatter, the wet wash.

As much as your hands, thoughts

make me tremble. You banish

the light because you want

me to come to bed. Images

of fields, opening

like an accordion, sweet sonnets

of wheat, I am dreaming, not just

of you or the tight warmth

of your fingers when the hand turns

around body, but also of harvesting, bending

a back to retrieve the tall

fruits of rain and soil. I reach

my favorite spatch

of skin, the nexus

of hip and waist, the curve

an ellipsis, like a song on its way

to higher notes. The window open

and beyond the city grime, the smell

of soil waiting

to be overturned, and seeded,

a body to be explored.

(from Terrain Tracks, New Rivers Press 2006)


Purvi Shah’s debut volume of poetry, Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which explores migration as potential and loss, won the Many Voices Project prize and was nominated for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award in 2007. She is preoccupied with the many facets of love, including its temporality and mathematics, concepts she explores in her current poetry project, Love Time(s).

Shah, who holds an MA in American Literature from Rutgers University, is a former poetry editor of the Asian Pacific American Journal and the recipient of a Virginia Voss Poetry Award from the University of Michigan. Born in Ahmedabad, India, Shah lives in New York City, where she recently served for seven and a half years as the executive director at Sakhi for South Asian Women, a community-based anti-domestic violence organization. She is currently consulting on the issue of violence against women and working toward a second collection of poetry.

Shah’s poetic lineage stems from the seeds of inspiration of her family and friends and the world around her. During college, she came to brew poetry through a shared exploration with poets Gabrielle Civil and Julia Cole while taking workshops with Thylias Moss, Marge Piercy, and J. Allyn Rosser. Through the Kundiman poetry retreat, a necessary community bloomed: she interfaced with Marilyn Chin, Sarah Gambito, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and the wide and deep Kundiman community of women poets, sojourners, and truth-seekers.

Photo by Willi Wong.

Myung Mi Kim :: Into the Whole Space :: Mark At The Margin | Tamiko Beyer

Myung Mi Kim’s urgent concerns include language and who says what; who learns what language how; what is home, what is war, what is destroyed; what is body as woman, as human.

She peels away utter[ance],to arrive, somehow, placed. In her work, body and location are vulnerable, taken to the precipice where language is at once a tether and a new form of entering.

Kim’s poetry is grounded in the processes of language and silences: “Each sound trace, each demonstration of the line, each formal enunciation: aperture: conduit: coming into articulation, into the Imaginary – the lyric as it embodies the processural” (Commons, 111)

The last line of Kim’s Dura reads: “Experiment is each scroll of white pages joined together” (102). In other words, her experiment is the individual joined to the collective, is the space on the page, is – not the setting down, not the fixed fact – but that moment of potential, that moment of possibility.

And so, her work is full. Of space. Space between words and punctuation. Space between lines and stanzas. Page-long spaces. These I read as “aperture: conduit.”

She states without equivocation: “Conjunction used with abandon is lethargy of the idea.” (Dura, 96)

And so, silence. Space.

Over which I, reader, feel invited to leap and leap into. Read as more than, less than, equal to in the associative nonconjunction. Don’t read and/or/but/… simply—silence—the quiet between two words. How they float on the page and in the mind. Then, my mind becomes less than tranquil reaching towards some kind of impossible equilibrium.

This invitation to energized participation via a charged silence feels like a distinctly feminist strategy, and one I’ve not come across before in quite this way.

Instead of conjunction, there is counterpoint and juxtaposition. Instead of lethargy, fierce energy of gaps to hold. Kim’s eye/mouth/ear is always on devastation and trauma (cultural, societal personal), but these cannot be explained, they cannot be conjoined without warp. Process is what allows her to somehow articulate this: process over time and space/page, process voiced and vocalized.

She instructs: “Open a page What does it look like” (Dura, 96)

To answer this question is how I find my way into her work.

I notate, I scribble, I enter into the energies of her space, the invitation of the page and how it looks. I feel welcomed to participate in the making of sense-meaning, in forming my own utterance, arriving at the lyric through a collaborative process that spans time and (white)space. In response, I offer my process and sense-making triggered by the words, and the spaces between the words, of Kim’s Commons.

What a feminist poetics looks like.

common connection :: our artifact

   after MMK

a firm account of birthing

barely terrifying

pregnancy & war
spiral & domesticity
suspicion & circular

form as relationship

to say what
needs to be said
(bodily gesture)
disaster narrative & gender delineation
to stand
to speak well
body as shelter, as a body speaking towards

:: ::

enemies surround
we consume

:: ::

if violence via language
is plague is infestation
colonizing nature (to occupy)
(hidden transgression)
what is the body dissected? (penury)

:: ::

discovery of a different kind of pleasure
signal shifts | body | march |
| death | earth |
| place |

violence to body
not done

:: ::

map to daily ritual
see first line

dictated invasion
what story here?

human & animal
the question the unknowing


attempted circle
attempted closure

what is function without relationship?

Works Cited
Kim, Myung Mi. Commons. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

---. Dura. New York: Nightboat Books, 2008.
Tamiko Beyer has studied with Kundiman faculty Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Myung Mi Kim, Prageeta Sharma, and Staceyann Chin. Her poetry has appeared The Collagist, Sonora Review, OCHO, Copper Nickel,and elsewhere. She is an Olin and Chancellor’s Fellow at WashingtonUniversity in St. Louis where she is pursing her M.F.A. She serves as the poetry editor of Drunken Boat, and is a founding member of Agent 409: a queer, multi-racial writing collective in New York City. Find her online at and blogging at

Photo by Kian Goh.