Para Kay Sei

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When I heard the news of your passing, I did what I always do–I cycled through my phone, through our photos, through our See Friendship page, our text thread. Why are you suddenly not in this world anymore? Why is data suddenly all I have left? How can that be?

As it turns out, my last text message to you on my phone was on your birthday, saying that I was happy we’d been able to stay in touch after I graduated and let go of Kythe, that I was proud of you, that you were such a blessing. (All still true, though the words themselves at the moment don’t feel like they’re enough.) You promised me you wouldn’t let me down.

You kept that promise like a trooper until the very end. As I write this, Sei, I am letting you down, because when I heard the news of your passing I stopped believing for a bit. Some deaths creep up on you slow, but this one hit me like a gunshot and tore through my whole body so hard I almost screamed (and you know I never, ever raise my voice). In typical me fashion, because I’m agro and cynical and hardened and kind of a war freak, my first coherent thought when I stopped crying was how much I wanted the person who did this to you to burn in Hell. My second coherent thought was that if this world is the kind of place where tragedies of this magnitude are allowed to happen, then maybe you really didn’t belong here. Maybe you were in a better world now, one that actually deserved you. My third coherent thought was that, be that as it may, God if he exists must have known that this world still needed you, that it wasn’t your time yet, and how dare he or anyone else presume to have the power to take you from us.

I’m sorry. Humans are selfish people, and as I begin this long process of mourning you there have already been moments during which I am no different. There will probably be more, as I seesaw with everyone who ever loved you between remembering you fondly and smiling and punching something and just sitting in a daze wondering what the fuck why did this have to happen. But you were always someone I could be honest with, someone I could speak straight to in my ugliest, most twisted-up moments, and you always believed, just the same, that there was light in me. You always fought so hard for the truth that there was light in all of us.

So I’ll just leave that photo up there as a keepsake, to help me remember. Alam kong signature pose mo ang demure pose, but I’ll always love this one, because there was nothing apologetic or half-hearted about you. I think Kythers know in a very particular way that the world can be a cruel, unjust place–because bad things happen to good people, because it lets children suffer, because all the methods that exist in psychology and medicine and all the sciences still fall short in caring for them and their families. You knew that, but you were one of those people who always chose joy and chose it entirely, who walked bright-eyed and open-hearted into such an awful world, completely willing to give yourself to others. From the first CLP we attended together in your freshman year I knew you were special that way. I looked at you and thought, this one’s a keeper, she’s going to go far, I can’t wait to see all the good that she’ll do. This one believes in the light. This one is made of light.

At this point there is nothing left but to thank you for that CLP, girl. Thank you for every CLP, every visit, every Advo event, every smile and hug in the hallway, every tweet, every joking Facebook comment. Thank you even for the ReSess you made me speak at last sem, even if I stumbled through it awkwardly and went massively overtime and had no idea what I was saying–thank you for the assurance and for the ego-stroking that I by no means deserved. “No girl, sobrang ayos, promise. Kung mabasa mo lang yung evals ng event, sobrang nainspire mga tao sayo. I’m glad the new Kythers got to meet you.” Bolera ka talaga. Sobrang galing mo siguro mag-Philo orals, tangina.

Basically, thank you for being. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And because I’m shameless, I’ll ask something of you too–please stand by us in the days ahead, and always, the brightest star in our sky. We stand with you, eyes to heaven.

We love and miss and honor you, Sei. You were, and are, and will be always, made of light.

Origin Stories

another iteration of that list/vignette thingy I’m so fond of

or, another rip-off of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

or, mutated NaPoWriMo installment

—-

1.
Noun.
The cessation of all bodily functions
necessary to sustain life. Causes
include biological aging, predation,
malnutrition, disease, homicide,
starvation, dehydration, accidents,
trauma, terminal injury. Bodies
of living organisms begin
to decompose shortly after. Commonly
considered a sad, unpleasant
or fearful occasion.

2.
Stoppage of heartbeat, pulse
and breathing. Most organs—the eye,
the kidney—remain alive,
and can be used for transplantation.

3.
The degeneration of tissues
in the brain, followed by
the failure of most organs. These
cannot be used for transplantation.
Rigor has set in.

4.
And the Lord said unto Moses,
Tell your people to mark the blood
of a lamb above their doors, and I
seeing the blood will pass over you,
and not suffer the destroyer to enter.

5.
Death came airborne into the world
when lightning first cracked open
the egg of the sky, spilling
an oily black rain of snakes.

6.
The end of the world is hidden
in a triangle of ocean, into which
entire cities have disappeared.

7.
No one knows the name
of the fruit anymore, but rarely someone
will have dreams of its sweetness, of the garden
and the swords of angels.

8.
In some mythologies, the first thing
to die is a man with an infant son
in his arms dancing backward into the sea,
is a king’s beautiful daughter, is the youngest
and most beloved of the ancient gods.

9.
A boy in striped pajamas.
A robed skeleton on horseback
who speaks in capitals, drinks tea,
adopts daughter, names a son-in-law,
gives his manservant Sundays off.
A smiling girl with a black umbrella.
Brad Pitt. David Bowie. Your boyfriend.
Anyone who wears a human face,
goes by a nickname, speaks.

10.
The Lord said, I have already saved
the good, all those who never truly
belonged down here. What will we do
now? It will come to us.

11.
In the oldest days of the world
Bathala could chase Death
down to the point of a spear.
Bathala could drive it into
the body of an animal—wild hen,
or dog, or boar—blood beating
in a thing of living flesh.

12.
The truth is
that it was a jar, not a box.
The truth is it was beguiling
as the woman, sloping
like a pair of hips, sapphire
and rose quartz
and jasper like so many eyes
shining out of the lid.
Gathered at the bottom
we find hope pooling
under the dark.

13.
We bury our loves dreaming
one day, a century hence,
they will return as trees.

God Never Blinks

Here are your results.
Your body is no temple.

Look instead at how
the cancer has bloomed
pinkly into a forest
wedged roots down the holes
in your bones.

Fireproofed
against any medical
procedure—too late
but look how beautiful
the devastation.

This is the secret we
uncover in none
of those white rooms
where doctors convince us
the machines see everything

though they have no hands
to lay on us no mouths
to whisper your sins
are forgiven stand up
and live. Every created thing

can forget its own death.
This gift alone is proof
there is a God
and that He loves us.

Object Permanence

The hardest lesson to teach a child is about the axis
on which the universe spins. When you’re young
you hold the world at arms’ length. From ages zero to x,
we fix ourselves in the inevitable center, the only place
from which we need not be afraid of missing something.
Mom, I’ll tell you now that this is the first difficult
conversation we will ever have. You wonder why
it feels as though you’re playing peek-a-boo with a wall,
why the baby doesn’t laugh. I hate this game. I always have,
because it’s a magic trick I can’t see inside of, no more
than you can read the signs in my head. The question
of your existence is too grave to tickle my funny bone.
When the tiny steel balls of my fists batter your arms,
remember this is the only way my youngest self
knows how to love, always half-terrified of things
it can’t see. Put down your hands so I can remember
what you look like, relearn the shape of your nose.
Convince me your eyes haven’t transformed,
suddenly, into the most lightless of black holes—
that since I can observe you, you must still be here.

The Law of Impenetrability

If, as science says, no two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time, then please explain to
me why there is longing.

We can experiment around this hypothesis: If I lie beside you, then at least one of us will mistake
close for whole. Possibly both of us. We will imagine breaking ourselves down to the same subatomic
particle. We will think we have found ourselves one there. The desire to believe this occurs naturally,
compulsive as breathing—

but I know for a fact our bodies would get between. All matter is impenetrable by law. There is no
cure for lonely, no more opaque surface than our flesh, and the only site of connection that matters
is made electric in the brain, jumping between synapses to initiate chemistry.

In light of these findings, you are no more than a temporary chemical imbalance, a premature
ventricular contraction, what happens when I forget that the only thing the heart moves is blood.

There is a rational explanation for everything—
this is mine, for why you aren’t allowed to touch me.

—-

First poem for CW 322. The prompt is to write a science poem, with that rather bombastic first line. I promise myself I’m not going to write a science love poem. The result is, of course, a very reluctantly written science love poem.

Day 30: Exorcism

The body knows better than you
can ever tell it, how to expel
what is unwelcome. The allergen
is that which places itself in the path
of your breathing, enters you
without permission. The sneeze
is responding with fire. Sometimes
this violence is necessary in the face
of the most everyday toxins.

—-

Day 30: Write a poem of farewell.

Unpleasant dreams about hateful people + near-constant hay fever do not a happy Nica make, but OMG IN THE WORDS OF JESUS IT IS FINISHED asjkhskgjhdaskjhr gargles.

Day 29: Coffee with the Angel

He slouches in the chair across
from mine, and ten packets
of brown sugar empty themselves
like so much life-sand dissolving
itself away into his cup. I ask is that
not too much sweetness for your taste?
Or, to turn the question on its side
and show you a different face—
why are we here? What’s it all about?

He answers no, sweetness, all I taste
is still black, but I like the light here.
It reminds me of butter. See how
everything appears lit by candles
that think they have all the world’s time,
and burn as softly as they please.
I could sit here all day fiddling
with the pages of a sketchbook—
to draw someone is a different means
of harvesting, when you conjecture
a story onto their image rather than
pinch a soul between your fingers
and pull it resisting from its vessel.
I would be that sort of man for you,
the kind who looks good in cardigans
and never gets enough sleep.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were real
and neither of us had somewhere
else to be? You are all the warmth
in a room. You are all sweetness needed
by an anthropomorphic concept
without the gift of senses. I wish
you were not imagining me.

—-

Day 29: Write a poem that incorporates all of Jim Slimmerman’s “20 Little Poetry Projects.”

Filing this constraint away for when I have more time and energy; in the meantime I continue making small talk with Death.

Day 28: Headlines

Life at sea begins by chance.
Incheon-to-Jeju ferry passengers assured
of a “safe and pleasant experience.”
Captain said to have spent four decades
at sea. A colleague describes Captain
as the nicest person on the ship. Captain
speaks with poetic flair about countless sunsets
and sunrises. Captain appears on television
dressed in a white uniform with gold epaulettes
on his shoulders. Crew members interviewed
know little about Captain’s personal life.
Captain is paraded before cameras, face hidden
by the dark hood of a windbreaker.
Captain crashed into a door on the bridge,
but sustained only light injuries according
to onshore doctor. Captain decides to delay
evacuation. Transcript of interview shows ship’s crew
worried about lack of rescue boats for passengers.
Captain and crew take to rescue boats before
passengers. All fifteen of surviving crew face charges
of negligence and abandoning passengers.
The conduct of captain and crew declared
unfathomable from the viewpoint of common
sense, tantamount to murder, intolerable.
Captain has not explained why he left the vessel.
Captain feared passengers being swept away
by ferocious currents if they leapt into the sea.
Trouserless captain of sinking ferry scrambles
to safety as hundreds remain trapped inside.
Captain runs out of ship without his pants on.

—-

Day 28: Write a poem using words lifted from a news article.

Obviously pulled things from a couple of articles I read online about the sinking of the Sewol, and a feature on its captain, Lee Joon-seok, because these things have a way of haunting you after you hear about them.

Day 27: Alms for the Birds

where the earth
closes stonily
into itself
and refuses
to embrace
our dead
we give them
to the sky

all that grows
rides on
the mountain
air, waits
for a new life
while birds
live off its shell

we believe
a spirit, too, is
a winged thing,
that even corpses
retain a wish
to give

—-

Day 27: Write a poem based on a photograph.

I chose this, and its attendant anecdote, because the practice of the sky burial fascinates me.