approaching some kind of diplomacy

hungry for something
sharper than mint.

this is my first invitation,
and although I lack the
qualifications to advise you
on how to deal with those
noisy neighbors, I do have
pointed ears, open and aware
of the crackling, your knuckles
gone pale from lost sleep.

once I was told that there is
a difference, that judgment didn’t
count against us if we took time
to assimilate, to foster these
saplings like the tastiest of greens,
drizzled in the kindness of cheap
olive oil, almost odorless and clear
like the tears we’ve swallowed out
of bitterness, our confusion tucked
beneath fraying and grayed pillows
gone hard between hospital walls.

gone for just a weekend,
but the floor screeches like
overworked vinyl, and I am
unsure that it is my smirk that
set the pundits off, that divided
the schoolgirls who come to class
a little after six in the morning,
brandishing their plastic spoons.

huddled beneath
our implacable sun.

Cat No. 135 of the 500 Cats Project

the shamelessness of sticker shock

I am the remainder.
that “Merry and Bright” that
whispers from shrunken windows
of overcrowded shops.

your grievances scurry to the edge
of a lopsided bed :: and rainfall
writes hurried speeches, made
heavy but not too pedantic, thanks
to the stutter that feeds the dead.

midnight comes too frequently,
and I throw away the last of my
birthday matches, those gracing
pastel cakes, lemon icing crying
that it’s so unfair, the dry center.

I pay them my retainer.
that dark “I promise” that
flings itself from tired shingles
onto many an unwashed car.

Cat No. 134 of the 500 Cats Project

when we wake up at five

doormat, or a shower curtain.

I am not sure which box to
select before the deadline.

weakness rolls off shoulders
while mosquitoes gather near
crooked toes, and I try to count
the pores across your face as
the mirror laughs at my hands,
curled and gray as fallen trees.

you walk towards the armoire
as I trace these sleeping tracks.

wordlessness, or censure.

Cat No. 133 of the 500 Cats Project


I don’t remember my birthdays. This is only to be expected, for I never had a birthday party, save for the time when the ratio of adults to children was eight to ten. But I realize it was just a ploy for my parents to announce my sister’s conception, amidst balloons, strawberry ice cream, cake, and my telling the camera, “I already have this!” as I held an Asian Barbie doll that slightly looked like me. The last party, and the last helium menagerie of short-necked giraffes bobbing along the sidewalk, sighing for air.

Exactly two months from my birthday, two years ago, I sat with a friend to catch up. She rolled her eyes, scolding lazy construction workers she almost ran over on her way to see me. The line across her lips was just as deliberate, her brows pigmented diagonally as I talked about ending my relationship. The only thing she had to say was “Think of your future.” I ran through the list as I always did, treating each item as if it was happening for the first time. Of course, only to me. His parents inquired about my finances more so than my own, the mother suggested I didn’t take care of him as we divided our cooking duties, and the father predicted I’d dance with Congressmen, share their suites, deny my clothes. This is what happens when girls with boyfriends continue their schooling out of state.

I showed her the text messages. And him too. Not the boy who gave me grief a good sixteen months after the breakup. Just a person with whom I developed a silly fascination with, someone who made me believe movies like A Beautiful Mind are historically accurate, that I could do anything in the wake of my twenties, that love motivates us to do what we never thought ourselves capable of. The lady whom friends jokingly referred to as my “big sister” could only shake her head as I insisted, “But it’s love!”

“You’re giving this unnecessary attention.”

Eyebrows rose as conversations stretched. Twenty minutes, sixty minutes. Three hours and fifteen minutes. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” a staff member barked, dropping a pile of copies on his desk with a scolding thud. She’d interject again to hiss, “Stop harassing her!”

“She’s not my student, so I suppose she’s fair game.”

His wordings and mannerisms were muddied enough for me to unearth, given my already existing difficulties in discerning attitudes and reactions in general. When he stamped his foot on the ground with a shudder, biting his tongue, blinking hard, I had a good idea. No one receives a pull on the trigger with a smile, and once that trigger’s pulled, no one lingers to provide a monologue with all the facts and details you need to write your review by the deadline.

I couldn’t comprehend the granola bars, coffee, the cute bacon sandwich. Offering rides as I walked to a bus stop five minutes away. You wonder, “Why would he waste his time?”

Additionally, the insistence on keeping in touch. “Let me know what you decide to do.” “Thank you for telling me how things are on your end.” “Hopefully we’ll catch up one day.”

When I came to visit many months back, my phone shook in my purse. One of my former instructors giggled. “And what does _____ say?” “_____ doesn’t text. In fact, he doesn’t really care for phones.”

“And you know this how?” The embers which singed my ears without a thought for private discipline revealed as much.

The last time we saw each other, it was over trays of sushi. He professed a fear of shallots as my tongue rested on slabs of avocado. A sliver of seaweed settled between my teeth and he only stared, hands clasped to mouth. I thought to bring up my friend, who wasn’t dancing with a Congressman, but someone kind of comparable.

He tapped the pinewood with a black chopstick. “We shouldn’t talk about this. But did I ever tell you our conversations remind me of the ones I have with my sister?”

I crunched on a sharpened ice cube, my forehead meeting his glance more so than my kohl-glazed eyes.

“No, no. I mean, it’s not like they’re the same. But they’re similar. And that’s a good thing. You remind me of her!” The clasp remained tight against a budding grin.

“I text people at 2 a.m., only for them to text me to go to sleep. I’m rather inconsiderate.” Similarly, my tone grew brusque, my back no longer cushioned against my chair in what was a state of calm.

“And she calls me at 3 a.m., which means it’s really 5 a.m. where she’s at, and it’s always about something work-related.”

“I always say it’s a good story.”

“Yes! She does that too!”

“But at this point in life, we can do that. Do whatever we need to do the next day, forget about the party three hours before, you know?”

“Yes, I remember that time. Maybe you two should exchange emails. You’re really a lot alike.”

My forehead glistened, while the cherry blossomed lamp swung back and forth, threatening to fall and oust the mango ice cream in its porcelain bowl.

“No. Well, you’re different, but you do remind me of her. She turns twenty-seven ten days before New Year’s but we never did anything because, you know, Christmas and the stuff that comes with it. I’m buying her something today.”

Thankfully, he didn’t have to drive me this time. Home was a ten minutes’ walk, headphones blaring annoyances only Fiona Apple could sing about.

Two weeks later, as the office packed their bags to embark on winter’s vacation, my colleague handed me a yellow envelope.

Hurriedly, I tore the paper, and opened a high gloss card with a koala’s head concealed in a bucket.

“Your birthday is never a secret!” He scrawled niceties below.

I remembered my birthday that year, and the sear of misunderstanding.

demons, stigma, pills

I. the couple afar
you must admit, you do not
possibly know of
the tyrannical screaming
that has brought their walls to sand.

II. and you still persist
in these monologues, postgrads
bringing you to shame
for causes you can’t place one
thumb upon; likely, a sketch.

III. girl from that first job,
the one who dated your first,
a reed-like ideal
you had long sought to fulfill
with Vitamin C tablets.

IV. an odd fixation
your friend attributes to the
cycles of rage, blind rainstorms
emergency lights shone through.

V. he has left you, then
so surely the effort was
a waste in methods,
years snuck away, and never
did you grace Vogue’s bold pages.

VI. medias rojas.
I wear these to look pretty.
my mother slaps me
though unlike Claudio, she
peddles my song, not my rose.

VII. fantastic Lauren
has been the blessed, to earn
four years of study
while Mother will always break
what liberal arts relieves.

VIII. my shaking, my throat
the pipe where toads so madly
screech, an anthem to
critics and teachers alike,
tests I could fail for decades.

IX. gardenias fly,
reminders of your placid
ambitions asleep,
a vegetative movie
lacking captions to explain.

X. I rid myself of
mediums that aggravate,
infect this bandaged
open wound where gangrene speaks
slowly, nothing true to say.

XI. he turns to face me
and asks with authority,
“What if all you’ve told
yourself are Benjamins, fake?”
well, I guess I won’t spend them.

XII. but the illusion,
I suppose, can tempt young girls
into keeping them.
fragilities, in the end,
moan cautiously—dreams unchanged.

what it means to be overbearing

I look it up in the dictionary
because like many other words,
I’ve heard and used it so many times
that I’ve exhausted its meaning.

usually, I think of a mother
crying loudly at night, demanding
that you drive to the nearest rural convenience store
to fetch some Nyquil for her imagined flu.

or, the boss whose list of directives
lengthens like the phone calls in her office
with a daughter who never listens,
a daughter whose flaws you’re told of.

I will leave you alone,
to the extent that you knocked,
every three hours, several weeks
when I was busy too.

eventually, the adaptation will fail
and I will worry,
seeing you’re back in the air,
flying kites dampened by melodramatic poetry.

I show these to the friend
who compared me to a headless rooster,
the one who gently told me
that everyone has feelings.

a search result mentions domination,
excessive energy, insatiable want
that I’d say you exuded openly,
myself the one at your call.

the most gratifying experiences
you claim you’ve had
in shorthand, prose, and video
the same day you request.

and like the boss, you had a list
and because I am a fiend with pens,
checkmarks, planners, Post-its,
it irked me to see things undone.

so I unraveled the spool,
each time you rang
in every color available
as I wanted to give you the world.

naturally, the more time spent with you,
I gave away pieces of my world,
finding comfort in our pseudo-anonymity
in an arrangement we both thought fruitless.

in spite of the things you’d divulge
and dismiss as things you’d never say,
or fantasies you’ve been denied access to,
you remained fairly silent.

my cups of water had spilled
to where I couldn’t mop up the mess,
and as the room began to flood,
I gathered the voice to call out to you.

fumbling again towards failure
as impulsivity grabbed what grew
exactly at the root, obscuring the light of chance
before the battery could even charge.

the best definition I settled with
discussed the application of emotional force
and the exhaustion suffered by one struck
with yearnings and aches unprecedented.

a positive side to this

you must have knocked
nearly a dozen times
and with those confessions,
opinions I shared,
you might have wanted
to know some more
about a girl
who was more than confident
she would marry a cat,
but you entertained
some slim possibility
of showing me
“a positive side to this,”
that being so far,
studious, yet typing
paragraphs of hypotheticals
at two, sorry, three
in the morning humidity,
you could not possibly hurt me
and I could very well
offer the most favorable appraisals
that your exes left you
regarding the curves of your pistol,
shining sincerities in our
soda can moonlight
the way we imagine
monogamy should glisten
across the full lower lip
of an actress selling beer
as if it were sweet sangria
or some aloe vera fragrance in a bottle,
petite like a frugal waitress
determined to carry a dozen plates.