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One for tree, two for woods,        
                                                            I-Goo wrote the characters           
                             Character  Character
                                               out for me. Dehiscent & reminiscent:
what wood made
                                               Ng Ng’s hope-chest

that she immigrated with
                                                                     —cargo from Guangzho

to Phoenix? In Spanish, Nana tells me

                                                           hope & waiting are one word.

                                        _____

In her own hand, she keeps
                                         a list of dichos—for your poems, she says.

Estan mas cerca los dientes
                      que los parentes, she recites her mother

& mother’s mother. It rhymes, she says.
                                                         
                                   Dee-say—the verb with its sound turned
down looks like dice
                                              to throw & dice, to cut. Shift after shift,

 

she inspected the die of integrated circuits
                                       beneath an assembly line of microscopes—            

the connections over time
                                                        getting smaller & smaller.

                                          _____
                                                                        
                                                To enter words in order to see
                                                                             —Cecilia Vicuña

In the classroom, we learn iambic words
                                          that leaf on the board with diacritics—

about, aloft, aggrieved. What over years

          accrues within one’s words? What immanent
                                                                        sprung with what rhythm?

Agave—a lie in the lion, the maenad made mad

by Dionysus awoke to find her son
                                    dead by her hand. The figure is gaslit

even if anachronistic. Data & river banks—
           memory’s figure is often riparian.  I hear Llorona’s agony

echo in the succulent. What’s the circuit in cerca to short

          or rewire the far & close—to map
                                                   Ng Ng & I-Goo to Nana’s carpool?

                                         ______

I read a sprig of evergreen, a symbol
                                               of everlasting, is sometimes packed

with a new bride’s trousseau. It was thirteen years
                                             
before Yeh Yeh could bring
                                                Ng Ng & I-Goo over. Evergreen
                     
& Empire were names of corner-stores
                                             
where they first worked—
                                             stores on corners of Nana’s barrio.

Chinito, Chinito! Toca la malaca
                                                             she might have sung in ’49

after hearing Don Tosti’s  
                                    recording—an l where the r would be

in the Spanish rattle filled with beans or seed or as
                                                                         the song suggests

change in the laundryman’s till.

                                         ______

I have read diviners
                       use stems of yarrow when consulting
                                                                                    the I-Ching.

What happens to the woods in a maiden name?

Two hyphens make a dash—
                                                the long signal in the binary code.
                                             
Attentive antennae: a monocot

—seed to single leaf—the agave store years
                                             for the stalk. My two grandmothers:
                                                         
one’s name keeps a pasture,
                       the other a forest. If they spoke to one another,
                     
it was with short, forced words
                                    like first strokes when sawing—
                                             
                                              trying to set the teeth into the grain.

More by Brandon Som

Shainadas

       Ese Louie…
       Chale, call me “Diamonds,” man!
	       —José Montoya

He shined shoes
as a boy for movie money,
& I imagined how

a shinebox might fit
under the theater’s seat
the way it fit decades

later when I saw it
in that dark beneath
my grandparent’s old,

sunken spring-bed.
Later bulldozed,
the Phoenix theater

must have looked
like those pre-war
cinemas mostly lost

now but documented
in the photographs
of Hiroshi Sugimoto

—for which the artist
placed his large-
format camera

in the last rows
of spring-shut seats
below ornate

wall-carvings
& baroque sconces
where he then

left the camera’s
aperture open
for a full feature.

It is what we see
of stars—all endings
& untouchable

beginnings: images,
characters, & plot
gone & only white light

left. The cedar box
housing brushes,
rags, & tins of polish

had its hinged latch
& the handle that
also cradled a shoe.

My foot’s never
touched it, but I wonder
which brush inside

might brush back,
against the grain,
one of those photos

to extend the wet
finger of projection
over a boy, who looks

up toward the screen
like he looked
up from a shine.

Or is the figure
to borrow from that
other invention?

Could I carve open
a pinhole in the shinebox
for its storehouse

of inverted images?
—as if revolutions were that
simple an apparatus

of optics to have
the shiner ascend there
to what shines.

Related Poems

Maps

For Marcelo

Some maps have blue borders
like the blue of your name
or the tributary lacing of
veins running through your
father’s hands. & how the last
time I saw you, you held
me for so long I saw whole
lifetimes flooding by me
small tentacles reaching
for both our faces. I wish
maps would be without
borders & that we belonged
to no one & to everyone
at once, what a world that
would be. Or not a world
maybe we would call it
something more intrinsic
like forgiving or something
simplistic like river or dirt.
& if I were to see you
tomorrow & everyone you
came from had disappeared
I would weep with you & drown
out any black lines that this
earth allowed us to give it—
because what is a map but
a useless prison? We are all
so lost & no naming of blank
spaces can save us. & what
is a map but the delusion of
safety? The line drawn is always
in the sand & folds on itself
before we’re done making it.
& that line, there, south of
el rio, how it dares to cover
up the bodies, as though we
would forget who died there
& for what? As if we could
forget that if you spin a globe
& stop it with your finger
you’ll land it on top of someone
living, someone who was not
expecting to be crushed by thirst—

Los Angeles, Manila, Đà Nẵng

California drought withering the basins,
the hills ready to ignite. Oh, stupid ways

I’ve loved and unraveled myself.
I, a parched field, and not a spit of rain.

I announced to a room of strangers,
I’ve never loved anyone more.

Now he and I no longer speak.

Outside: Manila, 40 years
after my parents’ first arrival.

I deplane where they debarked.
At customs, I am given a sheet warning of MERS—

in ’75, my parents received fishermen’s lunches,
a bottle of fish sauce. They couldn’t enter

until they were vaccinated. My mother, 22,
newly emptied of a stillborn daughter.

In Đà Nẵng, my cousin has become unrecognizable
after my four year absence. His teeth, at 21,

have begun to rot. His face swollen over.
I want to shield him from his terrible life.

Tazed at 15 by the cops until he pissed himself.
So beaten in the mental institution, that family had to

bring him home. His mother always near tears
when I ask, How are you doing?

You want to know what survivorhood looks like?
It’s not romantic. The corn drying huskless

in the front yard. The ducks chasing each other in the back.
The thick arms of a woman who will carry bricks

for the rest of her life. The plainness with which
she speaks of hardship. The bricks aren’t a metaphor

for the weight she carries. Ánh, which means light,
is sick, and cannot work,

but instead goes wandering the neighborhood,
eating other people’s food, bloating

his mother’s unpayable debts.
What pleasure can be found here,

even if the love is palpable?
My mother stopped crying years ago.

What’s the use, she says, of all this leaking.
Enough to fill a drainage ditch, a reservoir?

No, just enough to wet a pillow.
What a waste of time, me pining after

a man who no longer feels for me.
Today, I would give it up. Trade mine

for theirs. They tell me that they are not hungry.
Happy is their toil. My uncles and their

browned skins, not a pinch of fat anywhere.
They work the fields and swallow

beer after beer, getting sentimental.
Whose birds have come to roost, whose pigs in the muck?

Their dog has just birthed four new pups.
Despite ourselves, time moves on.

I walked lover’s lane with my cousin.

The heart-lights reflected on the river’s black.
The locks clustered and dangling.

I should have left our names on that bridge.
My name, the names of my family, written there.

Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today

I read a Korean poem
with the line “Today you are the youngest
you will ever be.” Today I am the oldest
I have been. Today we drink
buckwheat tea. Today I have heat
in my apartment. Today I think
about the word chada in Korean.
It means cold. It means to be filled with.
It means to kick. To wear. Today we’re worn.
Today you wear the cold. Your chilled skin.
My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said
winter has broken his windows. The heat inside
and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.
Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today
it fills with you. The window in my room
is full of leaves ready to fall. Chada, you say. It’s tea.
We drink. It is cold outside.