Digital Project

A Sound Not Unlike a Bell

In the dream last night I was desperately arranging cut flowers for something important

The practical uses of my work I was not made aware of

Nobody was available to assist

Thus the flowers were strewn around the carpet beside me

I was compelled to finish my task by something greater than myself

The forces that acted upon me seemed to say “Your life depends upon this assemblage”

I took it as a warning, though provocative, though urgent and abstract

The bouquets were to be picked up as soon as I made the call

I admit, it felt good to be the lone member of mission control

There’s no point in talking of how time passes in a dream; I worked for minutes

Perhaps I worked for years

The only sound accompanying me was a song I played in my head about a sparrow

A Chinese folk song from somewhere

I did not transcend myself in the dream, nature did not want anything to do with me

I sliced the stems at an angle and dipped them in water

I was so alone in my freedom to choose, but because I was under deadline

I did not dare make a mistake

After some time, I stepped away from my work and admired the results

The outcome was beautiful, and because I had worked very hard: rare


We don’t remember how we got here, so have woven a beautiful story of replacement

You mispronounce my sacred name, always in front of others, there it goes

A fine white mist where once it held space for me

I didn’t write for the longest time because you were speaking for me

You had so many eyes trained on you, I wanted them only on me

In order for me to work towards an undoing of my condition, I must know

 the characteristics of my condition

In order for me to know the characteristics of my condition, I must not be made

 to feel alone in my perception of them

You are and have always been subject to randomness

Accept it


In World War II the chemical giants (Monsanto, DuPont) made a fortune

 through exclusive government contracts to spray death from above

If you think about it for too long you will feel hysterical

You will point erratically at the audience in a frenzied state

You will stare at the miniature hurricane of Liquid Plumber spiraling down towards

 the clog like a heavy godsend


Poems of the deadpan subject

Poems of the habitually deferred

Poems of the yellow hand and matching face

Poems of the song that feels like a secret

Poems of the fancy free

Poems of the who and what do I love now with all this money?


I had felt the similes falling away from my holy body

In sharp relief and judgment of you who have yet to recognize me

I wanted disgusting excess for my family this year, my food out of your mouth

But my practice was of looking at the image and conjuring it up from the margins

I was crying there in the great hall like something I had never felt

It was repugnant to words

You had your eyes trained on me crying in church

I was tired of being worn by you like fashion and hungry for my life to begin

I attempted to face the successes of those around me


Pedestrian thoughts again about the body in recovery

Fragile clock, weak and porous until suddenly in revolt

All these days stuck alone at home

Parents in the world are like a roving evaluation, never knowing where

 their gaze will fall

On the mouse emerging from the wall

On the wall itself, in need of repair

A friend says “My accent never fails to make them laugh” and I catch myself laughing

Then laugh again at the brilliant entrapment

The completion of a closed misintentional loop

Lost to laughter now, unable to suck it back into my body

I read a testimony about the loneliness of large unfilled spaces and sense

 my parents preparing to board the plane now

Little pleasures of my own: burping, fruit


Your historical loveliness knows no bounds

Who is Tank Man to you?

My what if and my thank god

Tank Man torn apart by my would-be friends

Tank man dancing immortal as a GIF

Tank Man as where you stop reading

Tank Man has been around the world but not back

Tank Man as my dead dad, as nobody you care to know

I left and I admit I did not turn around, how could I, I was still shitting in my diaper

Every June I look around and you are ordering Tank Man, I am reunited with him

 on your plate

The day passes over you with grease on its wings

It was a luxurious silence, then a long sleep in the margins where my family owns a plot

Things as they are are inexorable

Time felt absolute and came back to humiliate me

I acknowledged language, my untrustworthy friend

A knowledge of my new home was anatomical and of many parts I was ashamed

Filled with an abstract grief

Tank Man doesn’t care about your velveteen ideas of protest

Tank Man finally on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard

Tank Man declining to be killed by you just a few more times

Tank Man as a cosmology of fetishized suffering at the center of the world

I had said to people “Is it funny”

If I am a social animal, I say much more or much less


Last night on the phone, bored to death while Dad live-translates my new poems

 into Chinese

He probes the meaning behind phrases until I think “You just don’t get it”

Later he explains to me the metrics of Chinese classical verse and I think “I just

 don’t get it,” and we laugh together

A sound not unlike a bell

It is beautiful to please one’s parents

Though somewhere it is written that piety is neither interesting nor progressive


Mom tells me a story: an immigrant arrives here

Eventually working second shift at a garment factory she saves up enough money

 to purchase a used car

Then she must take a driving test

Then she must secure childcare to travel to the test but can’t afford it

She asks to bring her baby in the car and is granted permission

She is nervous and immediately places the car in reverse

Nearly fails then and there

The roads are covered with ice and you must imagine a brutal winter

It is dangerous for Mom and baby both

Who then, is at fault?

If your flight lands at JFK but the shuttle leaves from LaGuardia

And you must take a bus with your four rolling suitcases and baby

It’s not that you are afraid, but something entirely more particular

An ache that moves frequently and with greater purpose


Flowers carried on an invisible hand above the ocean, color peeling off of me

Ruled by Chinese astrology, which is to say mood, I eat the mooncake to prepare

 for the new year

My sadness supplements my vision when I write

A factory where I reproduce myself daily, go nonverbal

Like beach trash and unanswered questions


Suppose I oppose the corporate merger of DuPont and Dow Chemical

After the merger, the mega company will be re-split into three new entities

One for textiles, one for chemicals, one for agriculture

The third of which employs not one but both of my parents

The layoffs are imminent and the mood in the office is tense

Dad missed his opportunity to transition laterally into academia and we are all nervous

Dad has acquired numerous bio-patents over the years, the prestige of which will likely

 allow him to keep his job

He appears in the diversity initiative videos produced by the company

He brings them home on a little flash drive

I pull a knife across the grapefruit’s glistening skin and can’t bear to watch


Admit: that moment in time is completely imaginary

You do not remember nor can you ever

You call it up into being at will

Perhaps we did not even travel to the airport in any kind of hurry or under duress

Perhaps we stopped for lunch in the wide public square

Mom admired the perfectly manicured azaleas, the trim shrubbery

But it is a fact that there was unrest

Crowds violently dispersed only to reassemble at different points in the city

Traffic must have been very bad, though we might have bypassed it all by taking

 the subway all the way to the terminal

Or the train on its reliable tracks

If we cried, it’s difficult to say what we mourned the loss of

There was so much we would not see again for many years

Did we pass through any checkpoints on the way to the airport?

Was Dad questioned for his timely departure from the country?

Did they ask him what he studied in Beijing, who he consorted with, his political views?

Do you support a democratic upheaval now or have you ever?

Why are you leaving today?

Is the department of molecular biology and research pro-West?

By design or by luck we boarded the plane

I didn’t cry once, the sweetest baby on an international flight the others had ever seen

Perhaps I became the star of the trip, passengers cooed over my impressive calm

Perhaps Mom and Dad cried in lieu of me

I had not yet known about my losing


A wish list:

You who have listed me first

You who follow

You who name me incorrectly

You who do nothing to find me

“You and Yours”

You who would bring up the rear

Your friends

Your enemies

You who would mispronounce me

You especially, saying nothing


Yesterday all I managed to write was a note to myself that reads “what is this poem

 even about,” and unable to find the poem in question

In the ’90s my parents took what jobs they could get

With each paycheck we felt our loneliness coming to an end

Pointless cut flowers began to appear next to the kitchen sink

I will accelerate into carefree adulthood now, I might have said

A body follows a mind to the edge, and then what?


I need these parameters around my speech

They push on me sensually, and yet I am always still listening for you

I’m too sensitive to listen to criticism for longer than moments at a time

Mom says I’m getting too fat, and this is the Chinese way

She says look at your soft white hands

They’re perfect she says you are perfect

May you never shove them down firmly into the dirt of a farm and pull up

 a root vegetable

May you never flex them to delay atrophy

May you never sweat in an unbecoming way or see the past the way we remember

In my past life I was a realist without the constitution for prose

Mom says I am so beautiful and overfed

Look at your smooth pale cuticles and oval nail beds

There is only one lifetime of praise in me, and I have not abandoned nostalgia just yet


I said I would write for her in the new year and send the drafts home in lieu of money

Unable to find the note that makes me sing, the text repeats my body into another

Where is the song finally trained upon me?

Not among the neon signage of the street at night

This poem is not for you

I only promised to approach the opening and let my tenses slip generously wide

This is where I come to be alone with words

I belly up to the sentence and live to construct this house for Mom and Dad

Can you imagine:

We used to answer the phone to declare our unknowing

“Hello! I do not speak English!”

“Thank you!”

Who, is it you?

Why are you calling?

I echo out miles at a time but not to you