Westward

I keep thinking about the road,
the way it led to that open sky.

We could have been anywhere,
but it could only have been California
where we were so small, surrounded
by the mountain ranges of Malibu
until we reached the Pacific Ocean.
At Point Dume, I thought, if I kept swimming westward
I would eventually reach home.

We could have been anywhere,
but it could only have been California
where stucco homes colors of late morning sun and lanky palm trees and the purple blue jacarandas blooming
took us through every day into evening.
We could have waited for the sunset
but it came and left so quickly
just like we did.

There is no time like LA time,
when the water flows into the sky.
We walked along the waves
washing our steps into the fine sand,
the winds gliding down our backs,
and the world before us opening, blossoming
into a moment.

I could close my eyes and smell that metallic saltwater of Santa Monica –
so much sun, so much life,
so much California
so much you.
Ask anyone and they would say
the kind of memories you make in LA
would always carry that sight of the trees and the lights shining through the leaves
and the scent of the sea
and the way it curves around the mountains.

graduation

them college days
so far away
as if time did no time in memories
leaving behind only yesterdays

you are young, oh, you are young;
the world is in your hands;
you are fierce.
you live as if
you will be back yet again.

what do i tell you but smiles
and wishes upon you the soaring high
of spirit, of passion, of desire,
for we all are only here, like this, once.

every what-if belongs to a time
you have not yet known. i love you,
i wish to see you grow
among your people
where you can be children
and you can become adults.

each of life’s graduations
is but a reminder that you are still riding the current –
sometimes along it, sometimes against it,
and you will fall and you will get up.
and your hearts will survive
being broken a million times.
you’ll feel like it’s all over a million times,
you’ll feel like you’ve found what you’re meant to find a million times.
and one day it will all fall into place –
the puzzle you have been solving
without knowing it even exists.
you’ll look back to this day
and nothing in the world can replace
the smiles and tears under every cap
the way the wind caressing your gowns
as you say goodbye to the moments you will never forget.

so smile, graduates, and remember how you feel today,
because you’ve lived a kind of love that only exists
because everyone else has also been in it,
whether or not you have truly known one another.
the feeling palpitating within your chests
as you walk in lines, as your names are called, as you listen to the last speech, as you throw your caps up in the air –
feel it everywhere, let it stay with you forever,
because one day,
you’ll be where i am now,
and wish nothing else but to be able to be around
my graduating class
all together again at last
before yet another start
of another life.

It used to be easier

It used to be easier
to live with the worries that hung over our head,
the dreams that haunted us to sleep,
the troubles that we brought upon ourselves via others’,
the indecisiveness that somehow made things better.

It used to be easier
to live in the moment with its optimistic view of future
the comfort of not having to grow up
(in the cursed sense of the phrase),
the hours that hastily simmered
into the corner of an eye above a beautiful smile.

It used to be easier
to talk about love without love,
to feel too much love to talk,
to look for things that were not meant to be found,
to forget things that we would one day regret not having remembered.

It used to be easier
to feel alive, for a single moment of livelihood
was enough to expand across time,
keeping us busy, pushing blood through the veins.
Whatever happened, we knew what we had,
and were happy with only so little.

It used to be easier
to be someone else,
always asking, “Who am I?”
in a curious manner – or, rather, careless,
because there was no I yet
for the question to take itself seriously.

Now is not harder than before.
Only that we will always be longing for
the unknown of a known past,
and the trajectory of a past unknown.

mentalities

in between the two mentalities,
I wondered how to let go,
and I would fall right onto the abyss below.

nobody has ever told me why this could happen:
being happy and being upset about the things
that have not occurred.
maybe this is how I have to walk,
right in between, looking
into my heart, where it remained
intact, like a dream no one has had
during the seamless nights.

I cannot remember how you looked like,
how your lips almost touched mine, how
we could not let ourselves trapped.

why did I let us walk away from each other?
one day, you stood at the other realm of my mind,
and I was here,
never again feeling that I could
love you the way I did
one more time.

In Spite (Nizar Qabbani)

In Spite

1961
by Nizar Qabbani 

 

In spite of all our conflicts
and all our resolutions
that we can’t make it work,
in spite of the animosity,
the obstinacy
and inhibitions,
in spite of the absence of our smiles
and the lack of communication,
there must be a mystery
that unifies our destinies –
brings our footsteps closer
and blends you into me,
melting your warm hands with mine.
*
In spite of all our differences,
our unmatched temperaments,
the dark days of detachment
and the retrieval of all the gifts and photographs –
in spite of the dreariness,
I still believe
that destiny insists
on our togetherness
and rejects
all our arguments
*
In spite of the autumn of our relationship
and the bleeding going deep inside us,
in spite of our persistence
to put an end to our drama
at any cost,
in spite of our determination
that I won’t
and you won’t –
I doubt that we can.
In spite of all these conflicts,
we are helpless
in the face of our fate.

How alike we are
in our spirits,
in our thoughts,
and even in our books and colours.
Isn’t all of this
profound evidence
that we are friends of the same destiny,
traveling the same road
despite all our insanities?

 

Bibliography

Qabbānī, Nizār, Nayef Al-Kalali, and Lisa Kavchak. “In Spite.” Republic of Love: Selected Poems in English and Arabic. London: Kegan Paul International, 2003. 40-45. Print.

City Love

In those days, at every corner of the city
you could find a coffee shop.

There was never a high-rise building,
everything stood together in an unorganized manner,
for they never mastered the art of urban landscaping.

Street vendors had their own way of singing
their promotion songs. You remembered the tune, the words,
which reminded you of those streets.

The sounds of vehicles and their horns and the winds
never stopped. But in those days, they used to be
purer. Clearer. More innocent, perhaps. Less troubled.

Life never stops being tough,
but it was quite beautiful,
then.

When I grew up
the city was still left with fragments of history.
I had no memory of what had happened before I was born,
yet you felt in the air the gentle sadness, and the subtle beauty
from those French buildings. The architecture
slowly faded away as icons from the war,
becoming part of our modern life.
We had to move on,
and so did everyone who had left.

Those buildings, instead, became icons of my childhood,
of what I remembered about the city.
From my elementary school,
you could see the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica to your left,
the Central Post Office right in front of you.
I was always taken home via the street former known as
the Rue Catinat.

I would never forget the way it felt every afternoon.
I’m going home.

Those places have changed, and so have people,
and so have I.
The day they demolished Givral Cafe,
Xuan Thu Bookstore, Passage Eden,
the whole street block of memories,
was the day many of us lost something so deep in our heart.
History was gone once again.
And soon enough,
we would allow ourselves to forget once again.

I keep reminding myself,
Hey, it’s ok to change.
My city does not repond to me.
It just becomes so foreign,
as if it has always belonged to somebody else
but me. And I keep digging
into the dust, the traces, the pictures
to find solace in what I could remember
about my changed lover.

They say, in the end it does not matter,
modern society needs revolutions.
Evolutions. Higher skyscrapers. Highways.
A North-South express railway even (Idea rejected.)
We need to catch up with the rest of the world.

Oh, dear men, I am fine with that. I am an easy fellow
who seldom feels too strongly about anything in particular.
But my heart keeps aching from some changes you guys make.
It outraged the day you took down my corner of memories.
I was in Boston reading the news my friends sent me,
picturing myself sitting at those steps in front of the Opera House
looking at the mass of broken bricks and dust
that was once a nice, little, iconic coffee shop-
Givral.

When my friend talked to me about changes around that block,
she talked in a tone that almost seemed guilty.
She did not know how to break the news to me
without also breaking me apart.
For just a few months before that,
we were walking down Dong Khoi Street (the Rue Catinat, if you may),
taking pictures of the Opera House,
Givral Café, the Continental Hotel,
joking of how we acted like tourists.

Try being a tourist in your own city.
It means seeing everything with a fresh set of eyes,
trying to record everything,
trying to grasp the essence of everything
within a short amount of time.
I guarantee you it is fun.
And it will reinvigorate your love,
your understanding, your hope.

I was disappointed with some decisions others made.
Yet, being a city girl,
I was raised to adapt to them.
To learn that there will be thousands of other coffee shops
bookstores
landmarks
so many choices to overwhelm me
to drive me away from the time
when I had so few.

Will it eventually work? I do not know.
But that corner of the street (now demolished),
that corner of memory (now fading),
I was there.
Yes, I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

I will definitely make further edits to this, but I’d like your inputs on the word flow, grammar, construction/order of ideas, etc.

I haven’t been away from my city for long, but the changes have been quite drastic recently. The coffee shop mentioned, Givral Café, was built in 1950 during our French colonization period. Ever since it has been a legendary place where many international journalists and writers and others meet. It was taken down on April 2010.

I was born years after the Vietnam War was over, so my memories are not really associated with anything war-related. My childhood was spent around the city center with French architecture around (the Cathedral and the Post Office are still there; the Opera House was renovated, but the whole street block of Givral and Passage Eden I mentioned is now gone.)

There is not much and there is too much to say about that city. I often find it either too difficult or too easy to write about it. You probably feel the same way about something or someone you’re in love with. All the words could be dedicated, yet none would be satisfying enough.

written 04 August 2010

Loss of A Masterpiece

what are these creatures of the night
that keep invading my dreams,
poking my ribs and neck,
throwing me back to our dark times,
of when we dyed our eyes
with memories of death?

you brought me a masterpiece,
then took it away from me.
how did I survive my resentment,
rage, and hopelessness?
how did I survive the loss
of your perfection?

we forgot, we forgot to change
the sadness at that moment –
the night when you saw me
purple and gray and empty
and I saw you blank like a page,
we lost each other in a heartbeat.

and we lost our masterpiece.
it could have outgrown us,
could have flown beyond our flesh,
and would have nothing to do with us.
it could have been on its faraway path
and, perhaps, would even be happy.

written 08 September 2010

I will soon lose my mind

Even when I am not thinking of you,
I am always thinking about you.
The shadow of the thought involving you
is enough to make me smile,
give me hope, let time slide
down the sides of my eyes
along with the most bitter of my tears
So what remains is no longer fear;
just a calmness I have never felt before
as I slowly set myself on an endless desire
Maybe you really are
my life.

Maybe I need nothing else
but a short moment of truth
masked with expectations
and prior experience.
Maybe you need nothing else
but a single audience
who can never demystify any of your tricks
Maybe all we need is a mutual feeling
or rather, the exact same wish.
What do I know if you never tell?
It is hard, so hard to believe
either of us deserves any of this
We finally see, with our own eyes,
what it is like to be seen
how it feels like to be held
where it hurts the most to be loved.

I doubt I truly feel any of this.

Maybe I’m just too full of shit
to actually know
how to return your love.
But I do not mind, and nor do I care,
when I am with you life seems utterly fair
and makes perfect sense
I would never have to ask
if you are feeling the same way I do.

Even if life stopped right here
I would not be so upset
for my only regret
would be just one:
I could never tell you before I die
how much you make me want to stay alive
in this world
this very world

For A.
who brought out the darkest in me
and perhaps I would never come back

written 09 November 2010

Lazy day with a touch of suspense

one day, he woke up,
and the day felt like a thousand others.
he reached for the phone and texted her.
she did not respond.
maybe work was busy, he thought.
the day went by. he put
lots of creamer and sugar
in his coffee. the coffee spilled
over the counter, dripped
onto the floor. he sighed and
wiped it carelessly, so it smeared
into brown patches and lines.
he got a book and started to read.
then he put it down and grabbed the phone again.
still no reply from her. he sent another text, asking
where she was. maybe she was very busy, he thought.
the afternoon arrived. he took a nap.
got into a bad dream. something happened,
he forgot. he almost always forgot why
he had cried hopelessly in such dreams.
she still did not write him back.
he wondered if he should call her.
but maybe not.
she got annoyed when work was busy and he called her and she could not talk right away, for she would not stop wondering what it was that he wanted to talk about. and it would probably lead to a small argument, which would lead to bigger arguments, which would end up with her being in tears and him feeling guilty, which would end up with them trying to make it up with sex, which would end up with him not being able to come, which would end up with her feeling upset because he could not come, and him feeling incompetent because she could not come either, and them being all melancholic and what not, and so on and so forth.
so he decided it was best not to call her.
she did not come home at the usual hour.
he kept glancing at the door, peaking his ears to noises from the street
the way a dog waited for its owner to be home at a certain time.
with every passing minute he grew more and more worried.
he texted her again. then immediately after called her.
and he called and he called and he called.
it kept going into voice mail.
he hated voice mail. he left her a few messages.
no responses.
she got home a few hours after,
looking tired as usual. apologized for being late.
said traffic was bad, then she got too hungry she
stopped at a diner and had a quick bite.
she wanted to call him but there was no reception.
her phone was acting up.
something like that.
he did not really smell food from her
not that he had enough time to take a sniff
for she had gone straight to the bathroom
to take a shower. when she got out,
he was sitting at the table, staring into the air
into nothing. her scent was soft, familiar,
and he could feel her smile and gaze upon him.
she sat down and kissed the side of his forehead,
asked him if he had eaten dinner.
he said he was not hungry. she took his hand,
placed her head on his shoulder, and closed her eyes.
they sat still for a few minutes. then he asked
if she wanted anything from the fridge.
i would have some apple cider, she said.
he got them some apple cider. they drank it.
then she said let’s go to bed.
he followed her. they got into bed,
turned the head lamp off, kissed each other good night,
and closed their eyes.
he wondered what was on her mind.
she wondered what was on his mind.
and they kept wondering
until they both
fell asleep.

written 30 November 2010