"Loving anybody and being loved by anybody is a tremendous danger, a tremendous responsibility." - James Baldwin
A native of Radford, Virginia, Lisa Kwong is the author of Becoming AppalAsian. Her poems have appeared in A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, Still: The Journal, Pluck!, and other publications. She teaches Asian American Studies at Indiana University and English at Ivy Tech Community College.
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Lisa, what poems have you brought for us today?
Childhood Fade in Litany
Behind the crisscross fence I thought home was a safe place.
The door’s lock loosened. I questioned home as a safe place.
Ngin Ngin took insulin shots and I looked away.
Ngin Ngin had a stroke. Home was no longer a safe place.
Main Street emptied of traffic and home was a safe place.
Smashed beer bottles kept littering the driveway.
Desperate men played lottery at Pak-n-Sak.
I watched her bones become landscape.
Ngin Ngin had another stroke. Home was not a safe place.
Girls cried at the strangeness of incense.
Smoke tendrils crawled down our throats.
My sister and I secretly went to the graveyard.
I questioned God. I asked why home was not a safe place.
Lightning squeezed my hand and home became a safe place again.
I cried at Ngin Ngin’s tomb and used to think home was a safe place.
My grief grew a noose. I touched the letters on the tomb.
I Sing to Myself While Driving to Indianapolis Airport
My choir teacher said I was an alto, meaning
I can’t scale cathedral ceilings with a whistle
register like Mariah. Forget notes
only dogs can hear. I was never meant to pop
a lung, belting ballads with Whitney bombast.
I sing in my car with its broken CD player.
When crossing county lines and corn fields,
the radio’s no use with its static and blurring
of country, pop, and rap. When I sing along
to the divas, I am glittering on stage,
serenading my unrequited, or I am the star
of my own music video, men chasing after me
in rainy streets but never catching up.
On this trip, I am trying to perfect
“Part of Your World,” the mermaid’s wish
to be human. I remember the summer
before fourth grade when I heard that song
for the first time. Even then I said,
I sing just like Ariel!
There is always desire to be
someone else, everywhere else.
I want to be part of a world where dress size
doesn’t dictate the stares of strangers, where
leisure and slowness are not dirty words.
I want more . . . to be where the people are.
I don’t want to be with people who make me
belly flop on rocks, who make me feel
like a porcupine in a tutu. I sing the song
of wanting to transcend history
when I sat zippered lip in class
and couldn’t measure up to the calculus
geniuses who shared my black hair
but not my size 16 waist.
S'mores and Smoke
In the pumpkin patch
air, a fire snaps as
glide in and out. Flames
catch these delicious clouds,
until they melt, perfect
between the snug hug
of graham crackers
and milk chocolate.
The man with hazelnut hair
and a sunshine heart
kneels and roasts
the perfect marshmallow.
A toasted blush,
Wearing a boyish frown,
he rubs away phantom tears
with his right knuckle
as the perfect marshmallow sinks
into its dry grass and dirt demise.
Gone quick as a leaf twirl,
its loss lingers like smoke-smell
on our jackets, like daily heartbreaks
we carry on a roasting stick.
You've been listening to the poetry of Lisa Kwong on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.