To return | a persimmon | fanned in sunset | in the driveway
By Anastasia Le, 2021/22 Poetry & the Senses Undergraduate Fellow
This year I gave up the idea of maps. Otherwise known as the net cast over the body of the earth for conquest.
I wear second-hand to feel
Like I have a history here
As I drag columns of dread
Under my dead woman’s shoes.
She says, Money is fake.
Whereas all of this—gesturing
At the clamshell container
An empty oat milk Tetra Pak
The takeout box I couldn’t recycle
—Can last past the collapse of our society.
In the recent past, when I reenacted exile with my own body, I no longer had access to gut feelings. What I didn’t know how to say was a terrible and familiar silence that coated a living room. Every cubic inch was heavy with it.
The thing called a language barrier—between two people, two generations, two countries—is more likely an encounter with the veil between life and death. Two individuals, a mother and daughter, approach it with some intention of honest communication. One holds the want to be rid of memory, the chronic pain. The other holds the want of any memory that can tell her: “This is who you are.”
Without meaning to, their through line begins to unravel into the space of speechlessness. Two looks: one disheartened, one resigned. They will try again tomorrow.
Joy Stretches for Sunlight
In a garden,
The tumult of history dims
So that grass might grow
So that unscathed’s antonyms
Might die by sunlight.
What am I healing for?
What kind of music
Does my body make?
What would happen if
Where would I be if
I wasn’t here?
These days the seasons slide by as half hauntings. If I lie still I can hear each vector communicating what my body could not for so long, what has been stuck in my skin. Stretching, searching for something that could tell me it is enough to lie still and breathe.
The dance of flies on the doorstep. Still air a haven for song. The shut door of a bin. The safety of darkness. The warmth of elemental things returning into their simplest form. Is there freedom in such a place? “Breeding grounds” for life to happen. Where does life happen? Where is it safe [enough] and who does it inconvenience or rather what does it defy. How sprouts challenge the cobwebs on the forest floor.
If you found a home in my skin I’d ask you if you were happy.
~~~Coexistence: regular use of “Both, and”; the uncovering of “either, or” and false binaries; being haunted; getting as close as I can to the marrow of historical memory, and sharing it.
Poetry is how I sound out what I don’t know. For the words that pull at the boundary between sky and skin. Where the things only my body knows activate. You can see it over a just-snuffed candle: how the smoke wraps around a moment. That’s what I’m looking for.
Anastasia Le is a poet, printmaker, and student co-operative member in her final year of a BA in comparative politics at UC Berkeley. Her first published poem appears in the 2021 Southeast Asian Student Coalition Anthology, in honor of the 46th anniversary of the Southeast Asian diaspora. Her work concerns reconciliation: political, sacramental, or otherwise. Anastasia was born and raised in the Lake Chabot area of the East Bay, among the Vietnamese Catholic community of the Oakland Diocese. She is the oldest of three daughters. Her favorite color is red.
Note: Over the course of the fall semester, each 2021-22 ARC Fellow will submit a short blog post relating to the theme coexistence. We hope you will enjoy these short readings! Poetry and the Senses creates meaningful opportunities for engagement, research, and collaboration. This multi-year initiative explores the relevance and urgency of lyrical making and storytelling in times of political crisis, and the value of engaging the senses as an act of care, mindfulness, and resistance. To learn more about the program, click here.