One Refugee Poet’s Origin Story

I knew I was a poet
not because
when my father
called me
dog, his voice
ragged with contempt
and disappointment,
I had known
where to stash
the memory
so that no one
would get hurt.
No. I knew I was
a poet because
when ice encased
the sidewalk trees,
they became jeweled blooms
gleaming at me
like a song from lost memory.
No. It’s not that
poets just see beauty,
following it
like a migratory instinct.
No. It’s that,
once in childhood,
I encountered
leaves talking
to each other,
and after that,
I couldn’t stop
those cryptic moments
from dropping
into my day.
A stunning weed
stopping me
in my tracks.
The morning sun’s ghost
haunting my mind’s clouds.
Today, someone will ask me
to write about war.
And I can write about it
because I am alive now.
Yes, I can see
my father’s young promise–
what he could have been,
before war and genocide.
How that tender lover
of all beautiful things
was worked to death
in the miserable rice paddies.
No, I cannot speak for him,
nor for any of the dead,
but I find them
all the time
in my poems.


There are landscapes / woven only of suppression.

Examen in San Francisco

In the coffee shop, unctuous with light, I wait / for the syrup to settle in my gut.