“The Bite” By Bunkong Tuon

 

This is the third in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

The Bite

We pay it no attention
until the bite becomes a rash
spreading like a spider web
on the back of Chanda’s leg.
Our minds burn like wild fire.
Google becomes our hated
guide as we navigate WebMD,
Mayo Clinic, and CDC.
We study online images,
whisper symptoms like
bad secrets, and compare notes.
We gather contradictions,
argue. Nothing is certain,
only more questions.
We text friends and family.
Is it too late for antibiotics?
What is Lyme disease?
Will this affect our daughter
for the rest of her life?
We wake up the next morning
clutching each other,
sweat drenched our pillows.

 

About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly  He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

 

More By Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream

Gender Danger

 

Image Credit: “Red Cross nurses’ aides preparing surgical bandages” The Library of Congress

Gender Danger by Bunkong Tuon

 

This is the second in a series of poems from a forthcoming poetry collection about raising a biracial daughter in Contemporary America, during this polarizing time of political and cultural upheavals where sexual harassment allegations abound, where a wall, literal and figurative, threatens to keep out immigrants like the narrator, a former refugee and child survivor of the Cambodian Genocide.

 

Gender Danger

Chanda goes down
the slide, then climbs
back on it, and laughs
when I shake my head,
“No, not that way.”
She flies on the zip-line,
yells, “Look at me, Daddy.”
Inside a giant plastic globe
she screeches as I spin
her world. Then she says,
“Potty, Daddy, Potty.”
We cross the lawn,
go through a corridor,
and find ourselves in
front of the bathroom.
I move us towards
the men’s room
but Chanda yanks me
to the women’s room.
She is aware of gender
but is not ready to use
the restroom on her own.
“Daddy can’t go in there,”
I explain. She cries, “No
boysroom. No boys!”
A woman walks by.
I want to ask for help
but reason prevails.
So I pull Chanda
into the men’s room.
She’s on the toilet,
tears streaming
down her face.
Someone comes in
right after us, whistling.
Chanda looks at me,
eyes squinting, screeches.
I hold one of her hands,
pat her shuddering
shoulders, and repeat,
“It’s okay, Honey.
Daddy’s right here.”

 

About the Author: Bunkong Tuon is the author of Gruel (2015) and And So I Was Blessed (2017), both poetry collections published by NYQ Books, and a regular contributor to Cultural Weekly  He is also an associate professor of English and Asian Studies at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

 

More poetry by Bunkong Tuon:

Ice Cream
Our Neighborhood in Revere, MA
Snow Day
An Elegy for a Fellow Cambodian
Halloween, 1985
Dancing Fu Manchu Master
Fishing for Trey Platoo
Lies I Told About Father

 

Image Credit: “Young girl taking a Kodak picture of her doll” (1917) Library of Congress

“When I Was a Child” by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

 

When I Was a Child

When I was a child
I had no need for tennis shoes.
I walked the unpaved 
roads of Zacatepec in sandals
sometimes barefoot and shirtless.

We ate small green mangos
from the neighbor’s trees
plucked sugarcane 
from passing trucks.
We had no need for money
to entertain ourselves.

Video games were not yet invented.
Shooting marbles was our game.
We played futbol in dusty fields
pretended to ride horses
on broomsticks.

Our black and white television
only had two channels.
I watched the Lone Ranger;
he spoke Spanish like me.

.

About the Author: Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, born in Mexico, lives in California and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. His first book of poems, Raw Materials, was published by Pygmy Forest Press. His poetry has been published by Alternating Current Press, Blue Collar Review, Counterpunch, Deadbeat Press, New Polish Beat, Poet’s Democracy, and Ten Pages Press. His latest chapbook, Make the Light Mine, was published by Kendra Steiner Editions.

 

Image Credit: “Calle de Guadeloupe, Mexico” by William Henry Jackson Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

Things to Worry About

Norah Vawter Parents

The author with her parents, Skip and Denise, 1985.

Things to Worry About

by Norah Buckley Vawter

Dear Mothers,

Things to worry about:

  • Worry about the planet.
  • Worry about your children’s welfare.
  • Worry about your family and friends.
  • Worry about not wasting your life.
  • Worry about kindness and love.

Things not to worry about:

  • Don’t worry about conversations you had yesterday.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think of you.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think, period.
  • Don’t worry about jogging strollers.
  • Don’t worry about jumperoos vs. exersaucers.
  • Don’t worry about getting a fancy anything unless you really want it.
  • Don’t worry about worrying.
  • When holding a newborn, don’t worry that he is so tiny and fragile you might break him just by holding him. If babies were that fragile, we wouldn’t have a human race.
  • If you had great parents, don’t worry about living up to impossible expectations of what parenting should be like. Your parents surely, surely had days when they made mistakes, maybe even huge ones.
  • If your parents were awful, don’t worry about doing everything differently to create some magical world full of goodness and light for your own child. Just do your best. There will probably be plenty of magic and goodness and light.
  • Absolutely don’t cry yourself to sleep thinking you are the world’s worst mother. You’re probably doing better than you think. In fact I bet you are strong and beautiful. I feel certain that you deserve happiness and love.
  • Don’t worry about the dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep and lack of makeup and just being plain tired and wrung out every day.
  • Don’t worry about the fact that Mom X gives her kids all organic food when you don’t.
  • Don’t worry about what Mom X must think when you pull out a bag of Honey-Nut Cheerios and food-dye-ridden Goldfish crackers for your toddler, while she feeds her kid homemade flaxseed bread and homemade yogurt with a smattering of wheat germ.
  • Don’t worry about anything anyone posts on Facebook. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about haters in general.
  • If you had your heart set on nursing, don’t worry if you can’t.
  • And don’t you dare let any parent bottle-shame you. When you are sitting at the park with your baby in your lap, and you pull that bottle of formula out of your bag – hold your head high because you are feeding your baby.
  • If your own parents are gone like mine are, don’t worry that your kid will grow up never knowing them. They’re around – somewhere. They’re inside of you. They’re inside of your kid. They’re in photo albums and in the books they read to you, the ones you now read to him.
  • Don’t worry about how you will eventually have to explain what death is, and where Granny Denise and Grampa Skip are.
  • When your kid starts to point out “Nise” and “Skip” in the family photos on the wall, because you’ve been doing that, don’t worry if you cry in front of him. When he says, “Mama sad” – don’t worry about what to say. Something will come. And then he’ll probably want to hug you, and it will be the best hug in the world. Ever. And then you can say, “Mama happy,” and mean it.
  • Don’t worry about being the perfect mother.
  • Don’t worry about perfection, period. It doesn’t exist, and if it did, life would be a hell of a lot less interesting.

Things to think about:

  • How can I be a mother and still be a human being in my own right?
  • If I’m not happy, how can I get there? If I’m not happy with how I fit into my world, how can I fix that?
  • Am I doing my best, as a parent, as a human being, in general, etc.?
  • What tangible, specific things can I do to make my life better, or others’ lives better, and maybe even make my world a better place to live?
  • If I want to make my mark on the world, how can I do that?

Love always,

Norah Buckley Vawter

Things to Worry About Parenting

The author with her son, 2015.

***

Inspired by Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Scottie, dated August 8, 1933

Norah Vawter wishes time travel were possible so she could party with Scott Fitzgerald and then talk literature. She earned an MFA in fiction from George Mason University and  has work published or forthcoming in Extract(s), The Nassau Review, and Agave. Currently she stays at home with her toddler while at work on her first novel.

A Review of Mike James’s Elegy in Reverse

Mike James Elegy in Reverse

A Review of Mike James’s Elegy in Reverse

By J. Andrew Goodman

Elegy in Reverse is a tense poetry collection exploring how loss and absence manifest. Family, friends, lovers, talents, and faith are shadows made measurable by experience and reverence in Mike James’s eighth collection, released by Aldrich Press earlier this year. James’s verse reminds us that what we hold dear is perishable and that words are often not enough to hold these things accountable for leaving. His poetry is plainspoken but evocative, fully rendering the familiarity of longing and grief for that which has a propensity toward leaving. Amid such an exodus, James captivates readers with his rapturous voice.

The characters of James’s past are made tangible by his written memory. In the early pages of his collection, readers are introduced to his mother and his alcoholic father; the latter is deceased and the former presumably so. In “Jailbird,” his father invents a dance, “the prison shuffle,” that the son enjoys, but his mother refuses to join:

when i was with your father
i had enough dancing
to do me
until cows or jesus
came home

she always
laughed
when she said that
as if she were saying it
for the first time

In economic verse, James details the family situation of his childhood: His father goes or returns to prison. His mother hopes to prevent her son from making similar choices. She makes light of her husband’s antics, yet reveals in doses the continuity of the past, her worry refreshed.

His mother appears sparingly throughout the collection, despite James’s apparent fondness of her, while his father returns frequently. The collection contains a number of heartbreaking poems about his father’s alcoholism, which “cost him a sense of direction,” ultimately turning him away from his family. The son is left only with his memory, piecemeal and bitter. James seems to believe he has inherited such transience. Or, possibly, he recognizes this as a feature of human nature, the human condition. He expresses “a sad anger” toward most loss or abandonment, writing in a poem later in the collection that “an old friend says leaving is contagious.” This sets a precedent for the remainder of the book.

Despite his ability to make good use of them, James recognizes that words often escape or fail us as well. In “Message at Babel,” James alludes to the biblical account of God confounding the human language. As part of a short series of poems within the collection that questions the necessity of disparity in faith, James explores through a lens of mourning what it means that Eve was possibly judged “before she even chewed,” that Job’s wife was silenced by her children’s “faces / so stiff in death.”

Still, James shows us clearly that language and voice help diffuse the power of death and grief. Our memories become stories, become physical. “I don’t know what to make / of the language / of grace” James writes in a poem about refusing to offer a prayer before a meal with his wife. The litany and ritual of biblical language are not as significant or endearing to him as experience itself:

those words / don’t cling to me / the way a blanket does / on mid-winter / mornings / / or the way we cling / to one another / at night / as we swim / across the ocean of our bodies / past the edge of our wants / / the night sky full of stars / mariners used / for passage/ their breath filling sails / with a word / that can be a taunt / a promise / or something close to grace / / home

James’s refusal isn’t a rejection of faith, but of its language, poor in its appraisal of our desires and necessities. He suggests silence is its own grace in “However Bright the Sun” and “Wild Apples.” In labor, we work through our grief and unpleasantness. We forget our losses, even though their accumulation manifests into a shadow, “some days . . .  into a taste.”

The dichotomy of what is unreal as it exists in reality is essential to James’s collection. He is visited by his father’s ghost, and they converse. Eden’s inhabitants are capricious, envious of Eve’s taste. James even defines an elegy as “a love poem to an abstraction / once touched.” It seems, then, that with poetry James is enabled to seek the abstraction through language, to define absence by its bounty. The way the monk in “The Monk’s Dream” seeks God’s face during sleep or contemplation but can think only of hawk’s feathers and an empty bowl is how we, with James, seek the unreal through the limitations of the real.

More than a reconciliation of grief, Elegy in Reverse is a love poem to language and the surprising result of what happens when we’re able to say the right thing. Even when describing that which is fleeting, Mike James’s voice is nascent, emerging. He is never at a loss for words.

Mike James, Elegy in Reverse. Aldrich Press, 2014: $16.00

***

J. Andrew Goodman is a graduate of Murray State University’s MFA program and an intern for the independent literary publisher, White Pine Press. He currently lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky.