He Exists

He exists. On the red & blue mats under the lights

of a city he leaps a fluorescent arc, teeth grinding

in hurt pride even when he knows we love him.

My little friend, the daughter of his swindling employer swears

he is no more than nineteen. I try not to think of it at times of cruelty,

when his eyes and his hands and his financial reality go abusive.

Four thousand a month in Shenzhen amounts to

nothing, means survival within seams, necessitates

tact and thick skin. At nineteen his years

cling to him like the baby-fat on his cheeks, squat,

possessive, undiminished by sun or hunger or poverty.

Survival instincts. Has he any? When I see him he exists—

humbly, translucently, surreptitiously, driven

by a condensation of time and space and dignity. He shrugs,

shoulders lean and heavy and waist bleached by a year of

air-conditioning. Sunday siestas I dream about him. In his apartment

that he shares with four others like him we curl into an orb

of efficiency, our existences shattered into many pieces

for convenient storage. Our chests rise and fall in sync until

he stops breathing. Could he exist? He is more orthodox

than my father but he swears in his spare time also.

He leaps an arc as beautiful as any narrative.

He props his legs against my leg, when I fall

they bounce me back up without mercy. On the red

& blue mats of the city choking with laughter

& disgrace he refuses to look at me.

When I touch him he starts shrinking.


A Meaningless Exercise


Tuesday or Thursday this week I woke up an old man. I looked in the mirror as I brushed my teeth and found the once vibrant wires crestfallen and frosted. My hair was a wedding cake. It was funny and I would’ve laughed but for my aging heart.

At breakfast Mum and Dad had no questions, did not look surprised. I supposed they were used to transformations by now. Dad was talking about coins.

“It’s fallen drastically. Just last week one bitcoin cost over twenty thousand. Now it’s worth what, five thousand a coin? Well, well. Simply drastic.”

Dad loved the word “drastic,” and the word “drastically.” They had a dramatic effect.

“Incredible, even.” Dad continued. “Who would’ve thought? Though it is not at all unexpected.”

“Why not?” said Mum.

“Well, bitcoins are practically worthless. What can you do with a bitcoin except sell it? And what’s the difference between a bitcoin and, say, a batcoin?”

Old and used to the ways of the world as I was, I understood immediately. Value and rarity are interdependent variables positively correlated. Things matter because they are rare because they are different. There is no difference between a bitcoin and a batcoin. They will all end up like the tulips.


I was sitting cross-legged in Jing Yulin’s bedroom, playing a game called “Favorites.” Yulin would list two things and I would have to choose one of them. Supposedly it revealed one’s temperament, given enough time and choices. It was an ingenious game for icebreaking. I did not have any preference for anything and chose randomly.

“Rain or sunshine?”


“Blue or black?”


“Apples or strawberries?”


“Oh my,” said Yulin, “we’re exactly the same.”

I panicked. “If I’m exactly the same as you, how am I different?”

As soon as I said it I realized it did not make much sense. I tried to clarify. “We should be the same person.” But that also did not make much sense. So I said, “Only one of us should live.” What I meant was we could not coexist, being the same person.

She looked and looked at me. Her eyes were soft boiling. When she spoke again it was something different.

“Why are you so keen on knowing the weather?” she said.

“I try to record everything I can.”

“But the weather?” said Yulin. “Does that matter?”

I said nothing.

“Why do you record everything you can, anyway?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “So I don’t forget, I guess.” Because when I forget I do not know who I am. And it is important to know—I mean remember—who you are. Why?

Yulin shook her head and stood up. “Come on, let me introduce you to my brother.”

Yulin’s brother was in his bedroom next door. He had just fallen asleep face down on an open book called Planet Earth: death by forgetting. He was seventeen years old and looked nothing like Yulin, which was unfortunate. Yulin was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.


I have big dreams. I knew I had big dreams from a very young age. Exactly what they are I do not know yet. At the dining table Mum asks, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be an artist,” I remember saying one day. And the day after I saw the sky burning I said, “Firefighter”, wanting to save as many skyscrapers as I could while they are alive. Yet another day I said “Urban planner,” and “Historian,” and yet another day “Construction worker,” thinking as long as there is life there could be no death.

I never repeat myself. Mum doesn’t enjoy it so much but I know it’s a good habit.


I was walking down Hongli Road one evening when I saw the sky burning. A liquid red was creeping up the northwest corner to the tops of skyscrapers. I called Mum. Perhaps I should have called the fire station, but I was young and in a panic. Anyhow I said to Mum, “Did you see the sky?”

“What about it?”

“Well? Can’t you see?”

“See what?” she was impatient. She was probably at home cooking.

“It’s on fire.”

Mum hanged up. I figured she went to call the fire station. The next day I told Jing Li about it.

“Are you talking about the sunset?” he said.

“Does it happen everyday?”

Jing Li said nothing. I figured it probably does.


I first met Yulin at the balcony of my school. The balcony was on the sixth floor. Students were not supposed to go there. She was leaning down the rail when I pushed through the glass door, her neck elongated towards the boulevard six stories down.

“Good morning,” I said.

Yulin jumped. She had not seen or heard me. “What are you doing here?” she said.

“I wanted to check on the weather.” The rain was black last night and I was worried.

“The weather?” She looked at me. Her eyes were big and black like rain. “Can’t you see it from downstairs?”

“It’s closer and more accurate from here.”

She turned back to the rail now, clinging onto it with owlish claws and thrusting the upper part of her body forward and downward. She looked like a rocket bound for the boulevard. I looked up at the sky. When I looked level again she was gone.


“Did you see the sky burning?” I asked Jing Li.

“What?” We were on the balcony. Two little hands trapped behind the glass wall of my watch ran into each other again, the first time in twelve hours. My watch was black like rain. Right now it was not black but transparent under the sun, a single refractive eye eating away colors. It peered into the sun with dignity without fear. The sun peered into clouds and gaseous rain and the tops of skyscrapers and all the little animals underneath that looked like distant dying stars. The little animals were writhing from the pangs of old age. We couldn’t see their faces from where we stood on the balcony. Jing Li was smoking and trying to read a book called Planet Earth: death by forgetting.  “When?” he was saying.

“Yesterday,” I said. “The fire seemed to have spread from the northwest, at least that’s where it looked reddest. I saw it climb the sky as if it were an escalator. Some skyscrapers towards the north were affected, too.”

“Really?” said Jing Li. He was reading a book called Planet Earth.

“It was awful. So many lives must have been lost. Do you think it will happen again?”

Jing Li looked at me now. His eyes were black and refractive like my watch. “Are you talking about the sunset?” he said.


Yulin is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, but her stories are even more beautiful. The first story she told me was about a little girl who was ugly. The little girl who was ugly was bullied by her classmates for being ugly and went to sleep everyday knowing she was ugly. She was constantly reminded of her ugliness as her mother told her everyday, as she kissed her good-night: “So and so is such a lovely little girl, unlike you.” So that the little girl grew up fully aware of her position in the world. Then one day, as if by some force of magic, the little ugly girl became beautiful. She learned to guard her beauty the way Adam guarded his apple. She brandished her beauty like a battle flag against those less beautiful than her. But once in a while, she came across ones more beautiful than her. Whenever this happened she went to sleep a little girl haunted by good-night kisses, and as soon as the city fell to lightless slumber she shrank body and soul into a yellow tulip.

The last story she told me was about the death of a planet called Earth. One fine summer morning Earth awoke having lost its memories. Without memory Earth fell to temporary chaos, but in time its inhabitants returned to their senses and a committee was formed to reconstruct memories. The committee tried many things, like abducting the Martian identity (having reduced the planet to ashes) and traveling back in time to relearn history piece by piece. There were many other things the committee had tried that Yulin hasn’t told me. It was a long story. Earth didn’t really die in the end. It just wasn’t Earth anymore.


Jing Li is aristocratic when it comes to coins and cigarettes. He makes a point of collecting only the most expensive of coins and smoking only where it is not allowed. Only then they are worth the squandering of money and corruption of nicotine, he says. Now he offers me a cigarette. We are on the balcony and he is trying to corrupt me.

“Come on, have one,” he says.

“No,” I say.

“Take it. It will make you feel different.”

I take the cigarette and put it between my teeth. Jing Li lights it. “Inhale,” he says.

I do as told. My cheeks inflate as I inhale. Now they have departed from the teeth so far they hurt, and I swallow. The fire climbs down the root of my tongue to chest and heart and lungs to form a flammatory circulation round and round my organs. I cough.

“You’re not supposed to swallow,” says Jing Li. “How do you feel?”

“Dry,” I say. There are small sharp particles in my throat.

“You’ll come to like it.”

We drape our arms over the rail. Two little hands trapped behind the glass wall of my watch form a straight line. It is sunset. The sky is covered in flames. Everyday I see the same skyscrapers catch fire, their naked tops tinted the color of blood. But they never topple.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A historian, I guess.”

“I thought you wanted to be a construction worker.”

Not anymore. Not right now. We have enough skyscrapers, all right. What’s important is to remember them before they topple.

“You know why I like smoking?”

“Why?” I say.

“Same as why I like coin-collecting.”

I do not know why Jing Li likes coin-collecting.

“It makes you feel different, you know? To just look at those fine lines and letters and know they belong to you, they that used to belong to some English aristocrat of royal blood and heavenly mansions. You realize how commonplace the things you once worshipped are. How the sky is always two times higher than the vertex you perceive. Literature pales in the face of a good coin’s material greatness. You look at it and you possess it and you rise. You know more about history than any historian.”

“You do?”

“Hell yes I do.”


My journal goes like this:

The sky is very dark at the moment, there is rain and mist in the air. I enjoy the mist very much. It makes you wonder whether the sky is dark or bright underneath. One thing is certain: tonight the rain is black, like soot. I was walking under it and felt it beating black and particulate against my surface. Though you can never be certain. One moment the sky is dark. The next it changes. Any moment it changes. Sometimes I hold my breath counting how many seconds it takes to change. It is a meaningless exercise. It will always change, no matter how long it takes.

And on and on in chronological order.

Mum says: “It is smog, not mist.” Mum knows much about smog. “Why do you keep such a meaningless journal, anyway?”

I shake my head. I have no idea. I suppose we are all afraid of turning into tulips. We all need something to hang on to.

Three Dimensional

I kept thinking of what I would’ve said

the day I almost told him. I saw from the way his eyes

transmuted that my brother was not one

to tolerate irregularities, nor to understand how running away

from my body was more beautiful than his acts

of blasphemy. And in the end I could only tell him this,


the way light came at me in sine waves 3am this

April morning. I felt sorry for my brother, who said

sleeplessness was destructive, an act

of irresponsibility magnetizing eyes

into black holes that suck away

ceilings. My brother was the only one


that cared about our well-being; one

evening gazing at the chandelier he told me this

scheme of forgetting, of doing away

with my disease that bothered him more than he said

it did. My brother, prone to forgetting, did not realize my eyes

were the only parts of his body that helped with my acting


the part of a disguiser. The way our lives were divided reminded me of acts

in an absurdist play, cyclical, inconsequential like the one

hamster we raised and let die. Burial day my mouth watered, eyes

turned geometric with rage feeling this

colorful earth vibrate and diffuse into our bodies. I said

to myself it was time to step away


from my brother. It was unethical to take away

his identity whenever I wanted to, acting

as if he had another to live in like he said

he did. Perhaps one day my mind will touch my body, my skin one

with the universe we curated. Staring down the ceiling this

dirty morning with loose-fitting skin and eyes


dripping black waters, eyes

the color of defeat too one-dimensional to look away

from, I tore my belly open knowing this

is where I belong. It is not a personal choice to be born into acting.

I wrapped my hair around my thighs around my spine to pretend I am one

thing only. I filled my bellybutton with my tongue saying


there are vertical asymptotes in my thinking, this

matter has to be approached three-dimensionally. My brother said

it was a matter of time. His index finger tells him I will be one.


There is subjectivity in the way we pronounce things,

in the past tense my mouth was on fire, dripping.

Thick plastic bags I flip through the props of an optometrist.

Today I am no more, there is no way out of this.


In the past tense my mouth was on fire,

My lips pierced in the middle looking down a reflective surface.

Today I am no more, there is no way out of this,

I my eyes on the sun that used to exist.


My lips pierced in the middle looking down a reflective surface,

They bursted like butterflies to the wind blowing.

I my eyes on the sun that used to exist.

Under the stars soft reviving my eyes were stark naked.


They bursted like butterflies to the wind blowing,

Thick plastic bags I flip through the props of an optometrist.

Under the stars soft reviving my eyes were stark naked,

Eyes bad and bubbly looking down my dreams a reflective surface.

Satan’s Daughter











My brother with the brows of a pale fire

My brother with lips the color of jaundice

My brother with black failing legs

Legs broad and floundering like stranded white fishes.

My brother with the lids of a desperate summer

With fingernails the shape of guitar strings

With nine fingers born out of sine waves and the other

saved for amputation.


My brother who is a clown

My brother who slaughters with his chin

My brother who chants the chants of Satan

whose mouth reeks of salmon and phenylalanine

with impunity.


My alien brother whose eyes differ by nondisjunction and whose

teeth fluctuate to temperature rising.


My brother of cancerous skin and glass-hearts.

My brother of lightning upon lighting in the middle of a black subcutaneous rain.

My brother the only hermaphrodite daughter of his many Fathers’.


the way we drink it

The first time we drank it

the incense cut our throats raw, diffused

up a concentration gradient of

sawdust & gaseous disease as she

said to me, tongue purple & jiggling:

“Under the dying sun our faces were

a shade of iron comparable to rain.”

She wrapped her little finger around

mine that were elongated by

the illusion that we engulfed

between lunch breaks & our upper lips.

She touched it with her tongue, gave birth to it

brooding beneath pale eyes & black

warring teeth. They disagreed often

but were loyal to her heart.



This is what i think about

palpitating under 2 am peace and steady cement:

Between the newspaper office

and home by a ceremonial mountain

is a place called summer; our skin liquifies

every time we trespass in floral ties and birth certificates

umbrella-blessed against harsh winds or sunshine.

we have a way of protecting ourselves,

dematerializing the way stars do against nights of neon and insomnia

stars fading like dreams of outlanders

severed, misplaced, lost to the winds of an oceanic summer—

and we, glassy-eyed and lovestruck

with sick humor and ceremony, lose our sleep

by the hooks of our noses.


Spring Views–a translation

I translated one of my favorite Chinese poems–Chun Jing (Spring Views) by Su Shi. Here’s the original poem:




Blooms fade as apricots sprout. Swallows spread wings, green waters entwine village houses. Catkins of willows taken by wind, to the end of the earth divine grasses abound.

Mirth within walls heard by those without. Pedestrian pauses, inside the maiden laughs. Laughter fades and no sound comes, sentimentality thwarted by the unsuspecting girl.

It’s impossible to capture the beauty of this poem in translation. The rhythm and much of the imagery is lost.