Sardine in Cosmos

Poetry by | July 27, 2014

Think of this, poet,
when you write down your little truth:

We pry our heads open with a knife
and spill out the brain on a tin plate,

and pass it on to four or five people
squatting on the bamboo floor.

We sprinkle salt
onto the red nebula,

Have to offer them vinegar
with kisses of a million chili peppers, too.

What we’ve given out may not do much
than to fill their mouths

and trim their bodies
into thin bamboo sticks,

but one thing’s for sure:
We offer something new

in this universe of plates,
appeal to those wide-eyed

who rarely have such a feast.
They all sure take our red cosmos in,

and think of black heaven
in a country of lost fish heads.

Think of this, poet,
when you write down your truth.

Erika Navaja works in a call center and is in love.

Clearing Out Negative Chi

Poetry by | December 30, 2012

Disbelieving the bad luck from this afternoon’s mahjong
my Chinese stepmom clears out negative chi.
Burn them—it’s tradition, she says. Burn
disappointments and bad memories, like
papers long forgotten left to rot in their shelves
that finally deserve their repose. Can’t blame her,
she’s a pack rat born in a Rat year. Should be enough to char
the coal she got from a whole day selling refreshments
outside school. It takes time
clearing those out, she adds, and also letting go.
She throws in pamphlets of some fake healing water
from Lourdes, France,
and Grandpa Cheung’s numerologies
she forgot to burn with his clothes.
Those numbers never came true, she says.
We’re out of paper, so I do some clearing out too:
the failed exams, the abandoned poems,
and such scraps of stories I swore to finish
but didn’t. It helps enough
to produce embers
with enough applied heat
to drive hard noodle into maddened water,
to soften it, to mix the seasoning,
and to feed to three hungry children
(whose father had died)
and a dog about to be put out of his misery.
Sheer luck we still have such dinners.
She thinks it’s easy
asking Grandpa Cheung’s and Father’s
faded photographs for good luck and prosperity.
I’m tempted to offer them some dumplings and incense
to ask them for Chinese noodles with meat toppings,
and the new Eng Bee Ten hopia with tikoy filling. But
I can’t demand too much of dead people.
Maybe I should owe all of them instead
what we have for tonight—instant mami noodles.


Poetry by | May 9, 2010

Dad fetched me one afternoon,
Five-o’ clock,
In my kindergarten classroom.
He saw me draw on the blackboard
A mother taking her son to school.

I asked him if he liked it,
But it’s just a drawing,
He said, sighing,
Not even applauding such stick figures
With the same smiling faces.

I pulled myself away, and turned back
To continue drawing my first masterpiece,
Only to find my teaching aide
Erasing Madonna and child
Drawn on the blackboard.

While some panelists debated on the voice and perspective of the persona of the poem, one panelist felt very moved by the manner treatment of the subject, in this case, a child’s longing for an absent parent.


Poetry by | February 7, 2010

Just got my clothes all washed up,
ready to dry. Perfect day
for clothes-hanging, although
moments ago the sun hid
among cloud blankets.
Wind chilled my wet hands

as I hung a week’s worth
of memories selected, arrayed properly:
the tee I wore going to a hotel function,
the bloodied socks caused
by three-month old abrasions,
the hankie I used for crying out loud

(and for honking sea-green mucus into),
some running stitches
hastily keeping my pants shorter,
frays on skinny jeans
out of clumsy hands playing
with scissors, the get-well-soon shirt

with distinguished signatures, my secret
stains on a panty hem, the yellowed
armpits, the gloomy pinks, the bright blues
fading blacks—still no sun? The chill
passes what seemed to be buntings,
welcoming next week’s festivities to come.

Continue reading Clothesline