Depraved New World

It’s taken an embarrassingly long time to write this.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but that I could not. There were thoughts—so many thoughts—but I could not hold on to any one of them long enough to mold it into something. It was like sitting down in front of the TV and flicking through every channel, devoting maybe three seconds of screen time to each station. Once you have flipped through them all, while somehow seeing nothing, you realize it will be easier to abstain. You sit back and meet your reflection in the black screen. Yes, it’s much easier to choose nothing, than to decide which syndicated sitcom’s laugh track is less grating.

Horror, it seems, is paralysis.

I woke up one November day deep within the plot of a dystopian novel: “The Cubs have won the World Series. Donald Trump is president of the United States…” I will remember that November day for its stillness. It was as if the sky itself were holding its breath. On the train, the jaws of the commuters around me were clenched tightly, lips pressed into thick lines. Usually, as I exit the station, a smiling black man in a yellow vest hands me a free newspaper and says good morning, while a busker strums her guitar. Not this Wednesday. No good mornings, no acoustic music.

In the following days, I read, maybe too much. I marched, probably not enough. And I thought and I thought, but apparently you can only think so much before you go numb.

One hundred and sixty-six days have passed, and here I am. Here we are. It is April. Red and orange tulips are brimming from the garden plots in the traffic circles. The sun hangs in the sky until 7, even 8 o’clock. It was April when Chaucer’s pilgrims departed on their journey. Like them, I find myself in a strange land, but unlike them, I did not go searching for it.

This world would be easier to confront if I did not know so immediately how everything has gone wrong. To not have one’s phone buzz with another breaking news message of where we have bombed and whom we have hurt.

I take everything that has happened and I scribble it down in my mind like a grocery list: the corruption, the end of truth, the bombs, the Russian interference, the ban, the forthcoming wall, the cabinet, the stolen Supreme Court seat, the nepotism, the hate crimes, the deportations, the disregard for our planet. And there, underlined and bolded, at the top of the list: my belief in this American experiment, in its customs and in its people.

This strange land grew up around me, like these springtime tulips, unnoticed until in total bloom.

It’s comical, too, this place I inhabit now. How comical, to picture White House aids stumbling around in a darkened West Wing because they cannot find the light switches, and to realize that our Commander-in-Chief cannot spell. Of course, one is then forced to acknowledge that he is, in fact, our Commander-in-Chief.

We call it “hysterical laughter” because the source of our amusement is so hilarious that it can only be insane.

So here I am. Here we are. It is time to harness my grief into something. One day, I’ll have a great story to tell. Right now, I’m still trying to find the words to tell it.

Further reading:

I have read far, far too many articles across the past months to create a succinct list, but here are some election-related items that initially came to mind.

Despair and Hope in Trump’s America

Everything mattered: lessons from 2016’s bizarre presidential election

A series of editorials from the LA Times

To the 47 Percent

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that you saw experience as elitism and loudness as leadership.

I’m sorry that you accept someone because of his sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia. I’m sorry that you accept someone in spite of his sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

I’m sorry you that you believe diversity threatens you. I’m sorry that you do not know or love or rejoice in the diversity that I know.

I’m sorry that the glass ceiling is still thicker than I thought.

I’m sorry that you do not see people when I say progress.

I’m sorry that my beliefs scare and confound you.

I’m sorry that your beliefs scare and confound me.

I’m sorry that you cannot see how my policies support you, too, and I’m sorry that I cannot find a way to say this without patronizing you.

I’m sorry that I have dismissed you. I’m sorry that I still cannot stop myself from doing so.

I’m sorry that you feel we forgot you. I’m sorry that we did.

I’m sorry that my America is not your America. My America is one of hope and love and growth. I wanted that for you, too. I still want that for you.

I’m sorry, but your America is not my America. Your America will never be my America. I am not sorry for that.



The Weight of Summer

I had been waiting for life to press into me like footprints in wet mud
when summer tapped at my shoulders,
swaddled me in unasked arms, fingers thick like woolen blankets,
baked me in the metallic scent of drenched cement
after the thunder screams itself to sleep.

I tried to retreat quietly, but I stretched myself out
too quickly, like a teenager just become too long for his limbs.
I wanted to be light and crisp and breathless,
so unsoaked in summer air that I would evaporate,
a blown bubble the second before it collapses onto itself.

Now, I press my lips together to exhale summer from
where it still swims asynchronously across my skin
soaking memories deep into my pockets.
Every now and again, I plunge my fists into them
and breathe out another peach-soaked sunset.

Madam President

Goodbye, glass ceiling.

That’s what I thought last Thursday night, as I watched the largest, most patriotic balloons I have ever seen tumble from the ceiling of the Wells Fargo Center.

Hillary Clinton may have shattered a ceiling, but there’s still a lot of work to do cleaning up all the shards of broken glass. Just consult the various editorials of why Clinton is disliked and attempts to understand her character.

It’s a degree of scrutiny that, as a woman, I also understand: the unfailing double standards of femaleness. When she goes on listening tours, she’s accused of not running a proper campaign. When she speaks up, she’s accused of screeching. She swapped her suit skirts for pantsuits, a subtle act of “power dressing.” Her most constant accusation is her dishonesty, despite being overwhelmingly more honest than her main political opponent.

Two years ago, I survived a stampede of UCLA students (no, I am not exaggerating) to win a ticket to a Hillary Clinton lecture. On the day of the lecture, protestors chanted in our courtyard. Someone handed me a “Ready for Hillary” sticker as I walked into Royce Hall. I applied the sticker to my sweater, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready.

That day, Clinton told me to “grow skin like a rhinoceros…learn how to take criticism seriously but not personally.” I know this because I was so inspired by her speech that I pulled my phone out of my backpack in order to frantically type misspelled quotations into an iPhone note.

There are certainly serious criticisms of Clinton to be made, and I try to pull apart the valid from the sexist. She is not the pinnacle of my most-admired-modern-women list; that honor goes to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Eleanor Roosevelt, or JK Rowling, dependent on my mood.

Hillary Clinton is not perfect, but she shouldn’t have to be.

Sometimes you try to do the right thing, and the right thing ends up not being right. Sometimes the right thing only seems right to you. More often, there is no one right thing, so you have to pick the best thing out of all available options.

I trust Hillary Clinton to do the best thing for our country. I trust her to grow that rhinoceros skin.

Two years ago, I wasn’t ready, but I’m ready now. I want to tell my children that the first president I elected was a black man and the second a woman. I want to hear my daughter say she wants to be president when she grows up—not the first woman president, just president—no qualifications, no adjectives, no patronizing laughter.

Let’s keep smashing those glass ceilings.

Read more:


Happiness was an ocean

Felt not
in the surety of its existence
vast and predicable
but when it pulled
back from us, left
the world too bright
but not quite
we persist
in its absence
as our eyes no longer blink back
saltwater on the wind,
when we stand on bare sand
burning our soles
and wait lazily
for the tide
to return.

To Be Alone

Love yourself first
they tell us, as if
they already taught us
to walk chin-up, shoulders-back through
life, after we already have swallowed our
confidence like an elixir, after we learn
how to be small,
how to stack knees together and to
curve inward around our convictions.
Love yourself
even on the days where only
the wind seems to pull you closer
to tomorrow. Sometimes, I catch
her in the dusty glass as the train skips back
into Virginia. I do not know
if it is love that holds her
upright among those suited bodies,
alone in their headphones, alone
in their empty faces, but
there she is—
alone among them.

Sestina for California

I thought of California when the sky turned to snow yesterday,
in the still of whiteness, visions of hills all green and brown and gold.
They told me I would feel it deep within my bones,
that winter is a mental game played against our earth
and with their snow-chapped lips, they ask
how I am doing and what it was like there and why I left.

I try to explain that I haven’t left:
Home is a feeling we find within ourselves each day,
clinging to us even when we thought we’d shed it completely, we ask
it to forget us, but the sun always remembers to caress our hair and skin with gold.
We shake ourselves out like beach towels wedged with salt, sand, and earth,
but home holds us up as completely as our bones.

So California lives inside me with my nerves and muscles and bones,
flattening my vowels and turning my t’s into d’s, leaving
me to look back across all the earth
I crossed in some sort of backward manifest destiny. Today,
I remember the sweetness of sarsaparilla in the mountains where they found gold
and the classrooms where I brimmed with anticipation of knowledge to be asked.

Because when they inquire about California, it’s of this they ask:
How we painted our lips clown nose red, pulled spandex over our bones
and marched onto a battlefield of stage lights and sissonnes, glittering and golden,
that spring meant blooming wisteria and autumn tarnished leaves,
how we held our breath, fingers clasping noses, until we burst back into day
from the Caldecott Tunnel, into the fog that sat down uncaringly on the earth,

and the sound of waves banging, scraping, tearing at the earth
as we scrambled across tide pools, grabbing star fish and sea urchins, asking
why they named her Mars Pacifica when she was so fickle and mean in the daylight,
and all the multicultural, multilingual, mixed-race neighbors I left
tied up together like a bag of jellybeans, bumping their bones
against each other despite themselves, not quite golden,

how dusk reached out fingertips of peach and rose and gold,
stretching, sighing, curling up around the earth
and how we strode out into the dewy morning she had left,
exchanging smiles in Royce quad, in pursuit of someone to ask
to join our nights soaked with youth and euphoria, music filling our bones.
It’s all this I think of today—

But no, I’m not leaving, only searching, unfolding, asking
where else to strike gold, where else to rest my bones,
what other piece of earth will be mine one day.