Cathexis Northwest Press
汩; 貴; 被
By: Albert Lee
01 in another life i would’ve steeped in the heat of another man’s hands
02 in another life Baba would’ve prematurely drained my amniotic fluid
03 Baba doesn’t know i gurgle sweat & semen from butt dimples & boy pussy
04 i just well kind of don’t really want to know if Baba has ever been gurgled
05 my hands are shy but they like to be held 06 Baba needs more hands to hold his anger
07 我 just 沒有 enough 杯具裝下所有的 tears
08 爸 just 沒有 enough 悲劇
09 each poem i write is seven parts sweetness & three parts tears
10 Baba would sooner suck bumples & bussy than sip sweet salt
11 i don’t know how to drown but i know how to be drowned
12 two big hands wade toward me in the week of warm water
13 i reach out for them like a dumpling diving for a dip dish of 醋 14 Baba jabs me open with His chopsticks before i reach the oasis
14 GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY.
GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. 天太貴了啦
13 GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY.
GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. GREGORY. 天太貴了啦
12 if i grow old i want to be the oxygen i needed when i was 14
11 whenever He can not pay the price my lungs wheeze pennies
10 the protraction of my birth is the price He pays
09 did you know 天貴 means Heaven is expensive
08 my Father has two names 李天貴 & Gregory Lee
07 i was a great fucking idea He’s just the wrong guy
06 i followed in His footsteps but my mouth melted to peppermint
05 pain is hard to explain when your mouth is too full to explain it
04 beer can cock red hot color finger pads Rapist & Father
03 if i close my eyes tight enough i can taste both of Him
02 & my Rapist has my Father’s name
01 my FatHer’s name is my safe word
Your pain is unexceptional and does not matter until a white man feels it too.
— Jenny Zhang, “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist”
01 cheating is walking away from me with someone else
02 You told me this emptiness of mine doesn’t spark joy
03 but my stomach still wishes it had a blanket to call home
04 but there is no mourning without You but i am mourning
05 so i devolved from baker to banker and kneaded a n
06 so You evolved from bitter to better and needed an i
07 if i take hurt i am good
08 if i’m good You’re god
09 OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR
10 every Rapist in the glazed windows is farther than they can disappear
11 we never resolved our relationship but You fitfully want to be family
12 i wish You had hurt me more as a kid so i had an excuse to be empty
13 i bled and bed for You
14 Daddy just take the L
Catfished from Honolulu, Hawai’i with a financial aid package, Albert Lee 李威夷 is a junior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His writing is inspired by larger questions about postmemory, diasporic intimacy, and Cardi B. As his mother once said, “You need less Cardi B and more Cardi O." If you feel so inclined, you can find more of his work in Bullets into Bells, Driftwood Press, Flypaper Magazine, Storm Cellar, and The Poached Hare.
Interview with the Poet:
How long have you been writing poetry?
Albert Lee: I wrote my first good poem, “faggot blood,” in Dr. Michael LaGory’s AP English class about how gay men are still unable to donate blood, unless they’ve been aggressively celibate for an unfair period of time, because of stigma stemming from the AIDS crisis. And since then, I don’t think I’ve really stopped. When I got to college, my former RA and now good friend, Ariana, suggested I take “Intro to Creative Writing” in order to boost my GPA, get my fine arts general education requirement out of the way, and surround myself with good juju. Four classes with Ping Wang later, and I am putting the finishing touches on a sonnet crown about my father.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
AL: The first book of poetry I ever bought for myself was “Stag’s Leap” by Sharon Olds. In retrospect, reading her poetry was quite similar to watching Ariana Grande’s music video, “thank u, next,” in that you expect it to be a scalding exorciation of her shitty exhusband, a “burn book,” if you will, but it turns out to be this Marie Kondoesque pain calendar in which she takes stock of her marriage, decides it “highkey” doesn’t “spark joy,” thanks it for both the good and the bad, and sends the lessons from it out into the world for someone else to have. Every poem in this book, from “While He Told Me” to “What Left?” made me fall in love with poetry.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
AL: I currently work at a bookstore and so I’ve been fortunate enough to get an advanced copy of Ocean Vuong’s forthcoming novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” an intensely fragile masterpiece. I found it particularly interesting to read his novel in conversation with his previous book of poetry, “Night Sky With Exit Wounds,” as there is a poem in there with the same title as his novel. Moreover, though Ocean Vuong is my current obsession, I also really love Layli Long Soldier, Justin Chin, Jericho Brown, Jos Charles, Bei Dao, Yang Lian, Tanikawa Shuntaro, Sugimoto Maiko, Jeffrey Angles, Lee Kiho, Kim Hyesoon, Gao Xingjian, and François Cheng.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i where I was fortunate enough to be exposed to many different languages from a very young age. As a result, my writing spills between and beyond language. If I were to quantify it, about 40% of my thinking happens in English, another 40% happens in Chinese, another 10% happens in Japanese, and the last 10% is done in French, Korean, or some other language that I’ve managed to pick up along the way. As such, when I write a poem, I amalgamate different linguistic fragments and choose which of these bits to translate into English and which to render in the original thought. All the while, I drink boba.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
AL: I see form as an extension on content and vice versa. As of late, I’ve been working on building a crown of numbered sonnets about my relationship with my father. There is something subversive in me, as a disabled, queer person of color, furthering the transgressive nature of my work by undercutting and overturning one of the most coveted poetic forms in the Western, literary canon. Solmaz Sharif in her poem, “Force Visibility,” writes, “What is fascism? / A student asked me / [. . .] / The sonnet, / I said.” With that in mind, I write sonnets as it’s what I currently believe to be the most effective form in writing resistance to fascism and structural violence.
CNP: Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
AL: I don’t necessarily think that we, as poets, find our voices, so much as we create them through imitation. As of late, I’ve been writing in a very creolized form of English, making sure to integrate the many dialects and languages in my brain. In doing so, I’ve been drawing on inspiration from writers like Ocean Vuong, Paul Celan, Kristin Naca, Fatimah Asghar, and Joseph Brodsky, imitating the techniques they use in crafting their poems. And so, it really goes back to this concept of transindividuality, “the notion that human interactions make us what we are, cuts across this binary division, as neither the individual nor the collective are sovereign.”
What is your editing process like?
AL: Workshop. Workshop. Workshop. I am currently a junior in college and I average about two creative writing classes per semester. Whenever there’s a chance for me to workshop my work, I jump on it as it’s been amazing to see how white students, Asian students, queer students, students with disabilities, and how students from different backgrounds react to and read my work. Based on their comments and critiques, some of which I accept and others of which I disregard, I edit my poems and make them better. Sometimes though, a poem needs to get worse before it can get better and that’s something I’m currently working on being more mindful about.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
AL: It’s like making kimchi; you need to let it ferment, checking in on it every now and then, adjusting it, if need be, until it’s perfect. And so, when I no longer feel a poem can be edited any further, I let it sit for a week, as how I feel that day isn’t necessarily how I’ll feel about it in a week. Then, a week later, I checkin on the poem and see if I still like it. If I do, I let it sit for another week. If I don’t, I make edits and adjust the “flavor” accordingly. Once I’ve let the poem sit for at least three months, sometimes more depending on how uneasy I feel about the ethics surrounding the poem, and feel no need to further edit it, I decide it’s finished and submit it.
Further comments about these poems:
"In the past week-and-a-half, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not I should provide a “behind the scenes” look at my poetry and, if I were to do so, what that would look like. I use a noticeable amount of Chinese in my poems and whenever I submit them for publication, I intentionally choose not to include any sort of explanation or translation as the poem was for me and my brain. My poems are not “for” other people, especially other people who cannot read Chinese. I see this linguistic feature in my poetry not as an alienation of the non-Chinese reader, though it may sometimes read that way, but as a means of fulfilling diasporic intimacy and connecting myself to the great tradition of Sinophone literature. Also, let’s be real; if you, reader, were really dying to find out what the poem actually says, in all of its layers, you can probably phone a Chinese friend or use Google Translate. With that all said, though, I have decided to provide a full explanation and contextualization for the first poem in this series, “汩,” as I think it would be a “weird flex but okay” means of showcasing the technical and ethical difficulty in crafting a multilingual and multicultural poem.
“汩,” pronounced gǔ, is a Chinese onomatopoeia that refers to the sound of gurgling water. As the Chinese writing system is logographic, this word can be further broken down into the氵on the left side which means water/liquid and the 曰 on right side which means speak/say. Essentially, this poem is “speaking water,” “gurgling,” if you will. This word carries with it a connotation of “confusion” and “extinguishing.” It also closely resembles the Chinese word, “泪,” which means tear/cry. I chose this title because it best encapsulates the meaning and atmosphere surrounding the poem, as this poem is about how I am unable to have brutally honest conversations about my sexual and romantic relationships with my father as he, in his “confusion” and disgust, would be quick to “extinguish” whatever boys’ “liquids” I am “gurgling.” As a result of this inability, line seven, fully-translated, reads, “I just don’t have enough cups to fill with all of these tears. And sentence 8 would be, “My father just doesn’t have enough tragedy.” The Chinese word for cup, bēijù, sounds exactly like the Chinese word for tragedy, again, bēijù. In rendering these homophones with the Chinglish text, I demonstrate the use of translation as a means of erasure. And so, even if you don’t understand Chinese, you can still understand the general atmosphere of the lines which is “just enough tears” and “just enough.” AndifyoudounderstandChinese,yougetthewholepicture.Ithinkofmypoemsthe way I think of myself with or without a relationship. Whereas I am complete, even when I am single, my poem is complete, even when the reader cannot necessarily understand every single word in the poem. However, a relationship, for me, is the cherry-on-top, and, if you can understand Chinese, you get the cherry-on-top with the poem, as well.
Prior to writing this poem, I finished reading yanyi’s book, “In the Year of Blue Water,” which recently won the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. yanyi, a Chinese-American transgender man, writes extensively about how his queerness has created this intensely fragile relationship with his mother, as he has “killed the image of her son.” Moments like this were definitely something that I, as a transfeminine Chinese-American man, related to. As such, “in the week of warm water” is a reference to his beautiful book. There are days in which I feel my skin to be as sensitive and fragile as that of a dumpling. Like the dumpling, I want to dive into a dip dish of “醋,” dive into the hands of a man who wades out to me. I stop, however, because my father “drains my amniotic fluid” and “stabs me open with his chopsticks.” The Chinese word, “粗,” while meaning vinegar, is often used as a euphemism for jealousy, as if though jealousy tastes like a straight shot of vinegar. Try it and you’ll understand. The uniquely Chinese flavor inherent in this word and the diasporic intimacy it thereby creates with the Sino-diaspora is why I chose to leave it untranslated. It also nicely interrupts the alliteration that proceeds this word, much like how my father interrupts my “bumple & bussy” feast earlier in the poem.
The last and most important connection to the Sino-diaspora is located in the 15th line with the words, “i sp溢ll,” as the word “sp溢ll” really symbolizes my linguistic and cultural identities and how they functions in relation to my positionality as a dual-member of the Sino-diaspora and American public. The word is pronounced “spill” as the “溢” is pronounced very similarly to the “i” sound in English. Moreover, the word “溢” also means spill/overflow in Chinese. As such, the word is a spill within a spill, a “sp溢ll.” This neither English nor Chinese word is an authentic rendering of how I think and how I don’t think in neither English nor Chinese, as the languages are constantly spilling between and beyond each other. My brain is not just full of Chinese words and English words; it is full of “wor字.” This linguistic rendering thereby reflects how I am neither Chinese nor American but something that spills between and beyond this binary. As a Chinese-American, I am not a half-member of each community but a full member of both. By numbering every line in the poem, I very intentionally call upon the tradition of sonnet, one of the most coveted poetic forms of the Western, literary canon. And then, by adding a fifteenth line in “i sp溢ll,” it’s a big, “Fuck you, sonnet. I am not your bitch because you are my bitch. I own you and the entire English language, as well as the Chinese language.” By spilling beyond the constraints imposed by the sonnet, I physically depict how my hyphenated identity transcends and transgresses both language and literature. This poem while simultaneously a piece of Anglophone and Sinophone literature, is located in a queer, Sino-Anglo future beyond both."