Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Poetry About Life

Sometimes, I'm scared to write how I really feel, but that's what we need writing for. It's easy to lie to ourselves, much easier than to others. But, if I wrote a lie, I might become who I meant to be, that is meant to be in the lie. So, I write poetry about what's true, because poems are stories too.

Solitude in the Center

I want to lock myself in a room,
To get away from this small world.
Walls as bare as my heart might share
A friendship with me.

I want to run away,
Bare feet flinging pebbles in the air,
Scratching soles into sharp sand,
So that I’d feel connected by the pain.

Why are there no roads,
Where no one else can follow?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Inherent Poetics

This week I wanted to go back to my roots in writing and post some poetry, that I feel really emerged out of late night contemplations, twisting and turning as the stars started to dim. Hope it brings some meaning to the world.


The sun down under strikes me cruelly,
Each golden spear from the heavenly sphere
Pierces dark skin and white bone,
Like Longivas. Fill me with fear
As I burn, more black than brown.
The sound of hope rumbles closer.
Cloudy blue waving back and forth:
Drawing and dragging color,
Mixing and making sand and stone,
Breaking and making reflections.
I exhale.

Warm breath mixes
With warmer air; its place uncertain.
The sweet calm exudes the cool
Touch of salvation. Deceptive.
The shaded depths swallow whole.
I will not float, but lose,
Misplace and waste myself in the turnings and twisting
Unseen below the surface.
But to taste the moist kiss upon my skin!
The violet surge splashes horror on my face.
Stasis. Stillness. Stagnant. Stop.
I inhale.

My unbidden choice.
Tempt terror for a taste.
Warm, I drift,
Lost in its supremacy.


We cry.
Before we are born,
Before we emerge from insipid security,
And open up our throats to the sweet dryness of air,
Membranes crackling and eyes red,
Death molests our bodies.
We cry.
As we grow inside,
We can only die,
Pointlessly, a dull knife
Brutally awakens.
And, as we are born,
We can only cry.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Childhood Memories

It was a world we shared with none. After K-5 and sometimes before, we discovered adventures. And, childhood is special; some things I think we'll never forget. The latest short piece is based on what I can remember of kindergarten and what I miss now that I've grown up, just as big as I wanted to be. I hope it reminds you of some memories that you're forgotten too. After all, that's the point of the memoir, I think.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Secret Playground

I’d swear the house was a historical artifact of some kind. It was made of wood that had long lost its flavor and had become more like what’s left of wood when digested by some kind of acid: grey, mossy, and suspiciously speckled. From the outside, the house looked deserted and even dead. Even spirits wouldn’t want to go into this little two-story cabin, with large wood-frame windows. Two on the front of the house on the second floor recalled eyes; but not eyes ever lit by fire or passion or vision, just dull, dark squares.

Despite the dilapidated condition of it, the house was actually my kindergarten classroom, at least on the first floor. In the little classroom with blue chairs and desks, I’d have my first fight, my childhood enemy pushing me onto the yellowish wall. My left front tooth on the top bears a little triangular chip in it still; I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone how that happened. In here, I’d have my first crush. A light-skinned little girl named S, with the biggest eyes and the whitest smile, just inflamed my little mind, maybe my heart too. Of course, I was barely six. One day when we are playing Vampires vs. Hunters, I will be the vampire who infects her; I sneaked a little kiss on her neck. It would be the scandal of the school yard that day. Recess was filled with shouts and teasing, “He kissed her!” I’d turn red under my brown skin and run away, my power ranger sneakers lighting my escape.

Around this school house was a huge yard, just exactly what kids needed. It was sandy but not grainy; I think a lot of grass grew there among the trees which seemed gigantic to us miniscule little people. There was a cashew tree, which would bloom pinkish purple and sometimes drop delicious pink fruit. Biting into that white flesh would fill my mouth with the sweetest juices known to men, little men like us. Then, there was the tamarind tree, the grandfather of us all. Without doubt, it easily spanned half of the yard and was hundreds of feet high. We would find its brown, hard-shelled pods but could not understand how to eat them. In any case, it was unlike any delicious fruit we had ever seen; tamarind is not fleshy, aromatic, or attractive even by sight. Then, there were the trees that seemed to be there for nothing, no fruits, just occasionally spraying us with leaves, shading us from rain. What do plants do for us anyway? It would be another six years before I’d heard of photosynthesis.

If you looked straight at the school house, staring into its shadowed eyes, and then turned about forty degrees to the left, you’d be on a treasure trail. We just walked to the side of the house; behind the tamarind tree, there was a little opening in the grass right next to the school house, a large swathe of untamed land lay virgin and wild. I remember going in there, with R and another S and getting lost in the detailed shapes of the fallen trees, the tall grass that covered our heads, and the little hollows in the undulating earth. There were no words in those days, just sounds, screams, joyous abandonment of civilization. In seconds, just feet away from the school house, we made worlds unknown to science and things untouched by mankind.

We had greater secrets, too. Deeper in the lost forest, tropical rains would create special places. One day, it had thundered for an entire morning; the skies let go of its tears. By school end, a tender sun was shining; warmness filled me with happiness as we ventured into our domain. A tree had collapsed; a medium brown uncle had a trunk split through. The fallen edge rested on another tree; in front of it a stream of water stagnated. We went through this gateway and continued onwards. Among the trees were ferns; each green triangle glistened with wetness.

Sometimes, water dripped from high tree tops and gather on the fern, weighing it down, till plop- and the water would find its way to the ground. Crawling through some tough grasses, we came to a little clearing where a large hole lived. But, a hole is an empty thing; the way had filled it to the brim and it was green with the foliage around it. What’s a treasure that comes after a cry but finds itself gone in a dry? The mirror smiled back at us as we made faces. The soothing wind whistled some mysterious song as the birds followed along. And we stood there, for a moment, making a memory that would take at least an eternity to forget.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Poem and Personal Essay

So, my two new posts are a poem and a personal essay. "Ghazal" is a poem in the style of the same name; it doesn't seem very complicated. I hope its simplicity is pleasing. "Bearing Witness: A PreMed's Perspective" is a personal essay about my experience at a writer's conference for medical students, which was taught by physician-poets. Even though the two posts may seem unrelated, I think that both attempt to find something profound in the universal.

Bearing Witness: A Premed's Perspective

I cannot forget the words.

I sit on a Greyhound, home bound. Cars move pass me, or perhaps I move past them, faster and faster. Trees stand thick and green along the slightly glistening road, as if spring has come again. The gentle sunlight, the kind of warmth that creeps through the clouds after a rain storm, caresses my cheek. Though I grow absent-minded in this strange tranquility, sharp words echo through my head. “Medicine cannot afford to have a single narrative.”

Katherine Ellington, a neighbor, a friend, a mentor, said those words, first with a smile encouraging us to smile, as the AMSA Writer’s Conference: Bearing Witness. She repeated them later amidst tears, the kind of copious tears that come from strength, from joy, from fulfillment.

This idea drives all of my passions into one focal point. Before I had many stars, precious jewels collected from the undefined universe; but, now, now I have a sun that illuminates. At night, we feel fear, threatening shadows approach from angles beyond our control, but in the day, we have only hope.

My footsteps slowed; my black dress shoes began to drag. I walked in late at the start of the first day of the conference at AMSA’s beautiful headquarters, a glass castle in its own right in the grand D.C. Faces, creased by lines of intention, flashed each other taut smiles full of teeth and more. These were the apprentices of that trade so magical it had to be a kind of science; the medical students occupied the room like an immense mass. At once, I felt the gravity of their vast intellects and their ambition. Could I ever be like these titans? They stood indeed on the shoulders of the giant ones before them. In doing so, they touch the clouds. Slowly, they were reaching, soon to steal life and death out of the hands of the very gods.

How could I, not anybody of any skill or talent or strength, achieve the beauty, the purity, the risk, the uncertainty that they embodied? I am premed, perhaps not the usual ginner kind, but a science nerd with a fascination for simple things, life, matter, and good books. Slowly, and quietly, I entered and took a seat in the furthest corner, well within the setting sun. Perhaps, my fear would dull my voice and my inexperience restrain me?

Uncertainly smiling, like someone who’d caught only the end of a bad joke, tapping my feet and nodding my head, my spiky brown cranium, I lift my pen onto paper, borrowed from my small group partner, and began to write. Fifteen minutes after, this the first time, I had but twelve words. And, the words were shorts ones too scattered to belong together, not long words commanding respect in pronunciation alone. Why do I write, I wondered? Why? I would weave some verbs and nouns, with some manipulation, into a tapestry of pleasing sound. But, why do I write when I have no purpose?

On Thursday, I laughed and said hello, and in due time, fell to bed.

I awaken, still just premed (perhaps I am too young to drop prefixes yet). Opening a white folder, participant bios absorb my eyes. I see MD, MPH, PhD, JD, MA, MS written neatly, printed really on little pages- normal sized but too small to hold these descriptions, essentially incomparable- a taste of the future that draws near.

Downtown D.C., or perhaps it was uptown, looks hardly interesting at all. But, inside steel columns, stunted in their height, our minds grow on information. At Kaiser Family Foundation, Tom Linden and Theresa Schraeder, doctors of medicine, doctor indeed (Latin for “teacher”) our spirits. In fierce reality, ideas temper down to where they belong; and, we learn a truth, more so a reality. When we write about what we see, hear, touch, and feel, then and only then, we truly learn the meaning of the words which make up the very language of our lives.

In a kind of hazy dream, I arose and announced great physician-poets at the namesake of the place where Langston Hughes first gifted the world his talent. Dr. Campo waves normal words into poetry; a differential becomes a song. Basile tells us, I listen, that defining things is beautiful. In medicine, the tremor of the surgeon’s hand, the loneliness of one who always rolls the stone up the hill. Bow-tied Bronson conjures up ice, longing for the lost song of a violin- his father’s. Thus, indeed, I start to see. It is driven, propelled. As the heart of the body animal pumps the blood through all our vessels, so too the heart of man impels meaning through all our works.

At dinner, at dark, at night, I listen and speak to the people who I find. They, the med. students, my friends, share. There are infinite contentions; each had their own way. Be faithful to medicine if you love her, they said; otherwise, she will cast you aside like a spent whore. And, always, so what you want to in your mind; in the end, every fire, even the smallest, can defrost but cannot transmute lead to gold.

Good writing can turn into good writing, if initially there is truth, sincerity, credibility. In the morning, we sat at long tables and began to speak of respected words. Campo and Basile guided me through poetry and through prose and listened to us ramble, the outcome of our own hearts. All looked dearly into the text, jotting down notes like a typewriter on its last spool of ink. Why should it matter what we think and feel?

Why would anyone want to hear? My small group, premeds alone and only, pondered. We sought to understand. And, we knew. The entire point is to create the universal from the singular the unique. We want to make others feel as we do, as we can, as we care: out hopelessness is the same as that of patient whose cancerous body betrayed her, our happiness the same as that of the doctor delivering the last dose of cure, and our silence the same as that of every person who stumbles into an ER with no strength left.

I bring it all together, throughout the days. Writing empowers, endangers, engenders. In our words, we construct right, disparage wrong, debate foresight. We can tell our stories and that of others. We advocate, educate, heal, and dream. Physician, scientist, writer, teacher, human- we cannot separate in ourselves what is one. Do we cry without tears, without feelings, without a physical body? Do we laugh without opening our mouths, without a reason, without a joy? The purpose united all, more certain and grand than a theory of everything, more fundamental than invisible strings.

I cannot forget the words. “Medicine cannot afford to have a single narrative.”


What had I felt? A thousand stars shine with indigo light,

For the eve of man passes, fallen into grey sea, this night.

If only there could be a warm, solemn place, fires bright red,

To rest my sullen heart and head. I find none this night.

The sun dispersed the doubts of day, what long ago was tender,

Harsh coldness lances, deep penetrating, my bitter skin this night.

Winds blow, heavy, an eternity sighs across the face of immoral truth,

You that sullen the moonlight, with chained guilt, you blacken this night.

If our world had no strangers, the songs would all rhyme,

No one, not even I would have to be alone, even this night.

Everything is illusion, minds wandering, wondering, into dark,

I will not give, you will not draw, the blood to feast this night.

I yearn with an insatiable thirst, dry sands do not understand,

Death, why can you not come with silver scythe, this night?

The falcons fly on wings of silken grace, while beneath the trees,

I break, hope shatters, transient electrical bursts: my heart is dim this night.

Should I have known? Faces do not show but ambiguous, this lore,

Who could have known? My sky falls in an instant this night.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why Start A Blog?

Like everyone else in the world, I struggle to have a voice. I'll never be a famous politician, a star, a celebrity, or have five minutes of fame. Most people won't. But, we don't need that. All we need are five lines of text, five words per line, and we will be immortal. Maybe that's what the Internet was always meant to be. International information highway? Sometimes. Corruption and redemption? Rarely. An amplifier better than anything made from R, L, and C? Always.


My first post was a short piece I wrote on my way back from studying abroad in Australia. It's a personal essay of a kind, but more than that, it's an essay of persona.


I'm planning on writing about twice a week, to share experiences, contemplate things happening, and find meaning in my own world. Maybe no one will read it. But, if anyone does, if you do, I'd love to hear how you feel.

Returning Home: After Study Abroad

Unintentionally almost, I had traveled around the world. Or, maybe, the world ran away from me for a while but now started to come back. I drank my last beer in Australia, last breath, last thought, and last moment. Just a few hours will pass, and I will walk again in New York City. I will go to see my family, home. I started in New York, came to Asia and Australia – to Curtin University, WA- and I return to the start. Then, life will run away with me once again.

I remember arriving in Perth. Australians rode cars and not kangaroos. It was green enough nearby; just a minute away the red sand raged. I remember the beauty of Fremantle on that first Sunday. The harbor was full with ships as cannons called up ghosts of times past. I remember Yanchap where I threw a spear weakly and failed at surfing. Why did the baby gray kangaroo run away when it saw me?

I was there to study abroad at Curtin University and studying hard was the easiest part. Of course, I was really there to be myself in a different place. Some fears arose at first. I didn’t want to be a stranger in a strange land, with a heart that no one sees, a voice that no one hears.

I remember Asia when I fell in love again with the world and its difference faces. Had the spires of Angkor Wat been more beautiful in the past? Could Shanghai really pack more people into it? In Malaysia, I learned the meaning of good food. And, in Hong Kong, I climbed to see the great Buddha; did it take me any closer to the gods?

I can’t make sense, can’t sort out all the moments, the infinite diversity of instants. Times of joy and laughter and happiness abound- finding a true friend by mistake, maybe too late, but then it’s never too late. Doing all the things I would never do back home; sometimes, I really just sat and looked at the view (but who complains about nature anyway?).

I remember spending late nights in CV, arguing with a long-haired boy and studying to the break of dawn. What funny conversations people can have, sleep-deprived Americans and Australians. I remember dinners with my mentor Ami, who made me laugh and wonder if I would ever have to grow up. I remember chasing after stories for Ripples, wondering if I’d ever understand Australia’s zeitgeist.

I won’t lie, for to lie about this, I might as well not write. Many nights I was homesick and just blue, after the sweet satisfaction of being alone and on my own had passed; even the water was sometimes bitter. I can’t complain. I’d turn different every time I thought; was it just all but a dream?

I remember the Outback, the taste of rusty metal in the air, and the touch of flies on my skin. In Laverton, I met some fairies, children one and all, who charmed away my soul and brought me only light. I remember goat curry burning my tongue, but we could not stop eating till the food itself was totally done. In Leonora, I remember a Golden Gift Race, of men and women, not horses. They ran fast, but no matter would they ever escape gravity? After all, it was discovered at Gin Gin, by letting water balloons fall fast and hard.

Twenty was not too young for anything. In fact, to be twenty forever would be immortality. And, coming back, I’m still twenty, unchanged much exteriorly, even though Australian cuisine is really very tasty. Within I know the difference, more able and more real. When I saw the world outside, I also saw me better.

I remember the Ten Day Northwest Trip, the sighting of the mythical Manta, while I flailed out in the sea. The pinnacle rising up out of the desert made a nice dry picnic site. I remember Australian beaches filled with the finest sands and shells and water. It ebbed and flowed under the sun with rays like golden spears- at least, no sharks ate me. I remember staying up all night to go to the beach first thing in the morning. I wasn’t first at all; the surfers had long been putting out. I remember many things, but to tell them would be unlawful.

Australia has come and gone, like waking up half way through a dream, a nightmare, and strangely not forgetting about it but craving to know the end. I fill up the blank spaces in my head, but the map grows ever larger. When I went abroad, I came again and found the spirit that I’d never lost.