Hey There Wildflower

Immigration and the Loss of Practical Good: The City in Which I Love You by Li Young Lee

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Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon) is a basis for Li Young Lee’s poem, The City In Which I Love You. Like the Song of Songs, its central narrative is a meandering search for God and community. Lee’s use of mixed metaphor, personification of objects and elements, and objectification of body imbues the speaker’s spiritual odyssey with a viscerality rarely assigned to spiritual realms. The poem is at once supernal and cutting to the bone — a contradiction instinctively felt and understood by the living. Here, mind, body, and spirit are one, indivisible.

The speaker’s odyssey is set upon unnamed cities, fixed on the idea of cities rather than specific qualities of a specific city. Suppose the concept of “city” is a manifestation of civilization — and civilization itself is defined by a set of rules arisen from human nature pondering itself.  Using this logic, separation of civilization and consciousness is irreconcilable. Without one, the other is impossible. A human exiled from their community can not be truly be human within the essential framework of how we understand ourselves. Exile, then, is dissociative: Man without city, like the soul without body; and city without man, a body without the soul. Heidegger’s “Building Dwelling Thinking” illustrates this concept with the following passage, “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build… Dwelling, however, is the basic character of Being in keeping with which mortals exist…”

While much of Lee’s poem engages one man’s exile, stanzas 16-23 pose a divergent meditation. Through dissociative observation, the speaker is capable of imagining the pain of others (those he sees, and those out of sight.) He is careful to observe himself defying the instinct either to consume or be consumed by external pain. The speaker anecdotally bears witness to the death and dying of others (strangers) while he searches for a dwelling where he may capably love an idealized other.

Stanza 16 reinforces this divergent tone by acting as a grammatical continuation of stanza 15, but unspooling a subjective retrograde, “I called to you, and my voice pursued you,/ even backward/ to that other city.” The two stanzas construct a visual and linguistic breaking: the literal stanza break, the literal page break (stanza 15 and stanza 16 are presented on two separate pages,) and the linguistic break of calling the other to the self, and the voice’s subsequent pursuit of the other. The voice depicted by the poem skews traditional “call and answer” song formats by constructing a loop or echo effect which behaves in a similar pattern, but is different because it is perpetuated by a singular entity, moving forwards (calling the external to the self) and moving backwards (pursuing that which escapes.)

Stanzas 17-19 again, are a grammatical continuation of stanza 16. Each stanza break creates literal distance between the bodies of the subjects, living and dead, between the dead body and perceived intent, and between speaker and subjects, respectively. The scene depicts three characters through the speakers’ lens. One man has killed another, and a woman tends to the dead after the fact. The speaker watches all, observing that he is not the woman, he is not the dead man, and he is not the killer. He does not bear their consequence of death, killing, or bereavement. The woman acts to preserve the sanctity of the dead by fanning away/staving off flies with her handkerchief. The dead acts dead, still, a false foil for the living. The killer acts with nonchalance or anxiety — depending on the reader. The speaker’s detachment is twofold: He separates himself from his subjects, and he recognizes his subjects’ ownership of their lives and deaths. He does not search for his beloved in the pain of strangers, and he does not call forth his beloved to ease their pain. Presumably, in a dying city where he is other, the self destroyed, he can do neither.

Stanzas 20-23 explore dualities of the universal and the foreign. The speaker recognizes the shared human experience of suffering, political oppression, interpersonal violence, and joy in communion with nature. In stanza 22-23, he removes himself from personal culpability for the intimate personal and structural workings of foreign entities. The flag image in stanza 23 recalls the image of the handkerchief in stanza 17. The handkerchief is mechanism for swatting vehicles of decay (maggots) while the image of the flag suggests a bird tearing itself from a decaying institution (the national bank.) The language surrounding both images is reminiscent of birds (flies, flapping.)

In stanzas 24-25, the speaker directly addresses his beloved, a presumed source of meaning. Our speaker meditates upon the suffering he has witnessed, finding only meaninglessness. He declares the “otherness” of his beloved “perfect as my death.” Until the fact of his death, his death is abstract. Until the fact of some permanent transformation of the beloved’s “otherness” in relation to himself, the otherness of the beloved remains an ineffable barrier to their union.

The beloved can be a woman, a feminine apparition, the embodiment of spirituality, communion with God, a church community, or all of these at once, whatever the reader chooses to project onto the text. Only through union with the beloved can the speaker become whole, and only by finding a community where his love is possible can this union occur. The line “Everything is punished by your absence” suggests those forced into exile, incapable, like the speaker, of expressing love/practical compassion in service to their obliterated communities. Human upheaval, then, results in a catastrophic loss of practical good. Belonging to a community not only endows man with a sense of identity and purpose, but also with a share of communal resources.

 

Excuses.

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Excuses.

it’s true. once in the springtime, long ago,
i murdered a frog, in cold blood, stone dead.
first, i pulled off his legs. my hands, aglow
with green guts and frenzy, itched to behead.

in my paw, i held the stiffening thing.
it no longer twitched. i retched, petrified
by shame. gloom came that same spring:
fewer tadpoles. i could never confide

the misdeed. and— years later, someone said
that famous killers, in childhood, killed.
my future was set. my hands were frog red,
tainted from babyhood, stained sick by thrill.

i have an excuse not to be purer:
i’m a fated serial murderer.

La Brea Woman

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La Brea Woman

The excavator gazing upon her skull
thinks not of death, but of treasure;
a tale for whom nothing pleasures.

Why put up with the insults of life?
The mad lover begets a mad lover;
predator makes play of predator.

This is the cycle of the tarpits:
rest, devour, die, be eaten, wake.

She curls her lip, and, revealing the ectopic
starlit tooth, snarls at his quavering body.

The body has a fearful look and hormonal stink
she associates with eminent alleviation, bliss.

She dreams of sucking down his teardrop kidney
from a sweet summer cornhusk. His sunken belly,
never the vessel, but sustenance nonetheless.

She remembers the first man who gazed upon her flesh
ensconced skull looking not to love, a look to steal.

Woman of the tar and of the angels
through whose socket groans an ocean;
and with ear to yellow, cranial shell,
transmits the voice of nameless jezebel.

A skeleton they do not want us to see…
intent for Yorick not to be or not to be.

The girl with the saber tooth
in the lady’s chamber of tar,
grinning skull painted ear to ear,
to kiss the cavity which belches dirt
without recollecting (or reckoning)

The dust of hair, mud of skin —
shivering in her skin of grief,
and decomposing cats.

—The Poisoning—

She traveled far by foot from her home, the scorpion tree.
crouched over the blue sea stone creature with its sticky
skin and dark eyes, sticky eyes and yellow racing stripes.

She bends over her friend’s blue stone head and stokes his yellow stripes
with the spine of an unsheathed dart, an extension of her fingertip…

She drags the tip across his slick back.
The harvest of poison is a nonviolent act.

–Transformation–

A traveler from scorpion tree, once a woman, evolved
into a predator. On the record, none predated her.

She learned to unbuckle from his fingers, to slip from his arms into sleep.
When she woke, her tooth stung. Thick spittle stuck in the throat.

From his rib, she carved a knife, from his shin, a scythe,
and prayed never to wake again, a woman.

–Sleep–

What begins with blood proceeds with silence…

She shot from the grass with the power of her mouth, her breath, the divine tooth. But, outnumbered up close, they used her own weapons against her:

Smashed her skull with an ax fashioned from the pelvis of her dead lover.
She received the burial of hunters: body tossed into the pit with elders,
mothers. Sabertooth sisters sleeping with each other’s hungers.

Who Hurt the One Who Hurt Me

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Who Hurt the One Who Hurt Me

Narcissus saw himself in a pool, and supposedly fell in love with what he saw, or was he hypnotized, glaring into a graveyard of underwater  bones.

Huge wooly creatures peered into the pools too, thirsting, not trapped by the reflection of themselves or the truth of what sat beneath (like us.) Bodies of ancestors and ancestral enemies. The darkened veil, eyelids of tar — drinking the sour liquid of dying flesh. Where skulls — masks of faces, stare vacantly despite the full history of the world in their DNA.

Mammoths in marching order huddle over the pools — mourning their stinking brothers. Trunks undulating in the black water, a nest of snakes, worms, limbs, appendages slipped from the bone.

Prey and predator together. Mud magic awakens in the socket.

Forget me not, cried narcissus, into the pool of death, his death, the death of himself, his body, his grief…

He stared into the pool and found tar blackened blood and swirls of gas, the eye sockets of his father staring ahead.  Can you see the flesh of your face transposed onto the corpse?  Little fires burn in the swamp –- a skull with your father’s face left to churn.

He’s lead me to a swamp of bodies where there are no safe paths. The only path is out or in – eat and be eaten.

I wonder, what it felt like to leave me, and which moment did he lose me? Driven by righteousness or poor instinct — a survivor’s adrenaline flashing in the belly, rising in his throat, to the brain.

Narcissus caught site of something in the water, saber tooth visage superimposed upon the skull that was his father, the predator who seeded in him the instinct to kill.

Your broken front tooth snaps in the act of devouring — eating the flesh of your father like he’s another teat to suck on. Communion stolen, not taken.

Family is familiar. Narcissus looks into the pool and murmurs “who’s there” to the bright and beautiful corpses.

I’m there. Your father’s there. You’re not here, but one day, you too will sink into the mire, swallowed by earth’s core. And we will not be as you left us. We are fuel for the fire and as fire will consume you.

Touch the corpse with your snout. Smell me. You cannot reach me, you cannot touch me, I am only shapes to see.

A quiet place for a corpse eater to become consumed by a sea of corpses, angels.

Petroleum bubbles rise: the secret history of angels, city of light and city of movements  — dead gray shadow against the drying mud, bleak and oily blue.

We love you from an upside down world. The grave you give us.

In the Rainforest Where Blood Is Green

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After Dying

after dying, feed my body to a captured cat so it can taste coagulated blood and smell mean skunk on his breath–

to know the gut feeling of human inside him, an anchor in the belly.

to be shit, a bloody sausage, malingering in the grass.

Use me then as compost for a rehabilitated forest he is destined not to haunt.

Crocodile Vs. Jaguar

She snaps her jaws around his jaws as she laps up the blood. His snout trembling shut, hers closing tremendously, inch by inch, splintering scales, piercing the brain, like arrows through apple, spoiled in mud.

heaving from her golden nose and eyes blasted backwards with madness

Anaconda Vs. Jaguar 

The whirlpool snaps her paw and flings… leaves froth, stuck on writhing bodies:

a swarm of slimy greenish bricks and flaming amber rosettes, their tales erect, two stems crackling, antennae in the electric eye…

ribs snap like popcorns. Half decapitated, the bulb, stuck on fang, swings from its punishing body like a loose door.

 

the city in which i love you

themes:
1. time, the atemporal (as framework)
2. song
3. citizenship
4. elements: fog, fire, flame, water and ocean, air, stone
5. the construct of cities, humans therein
6. personal loss, disembodiment, bodies, the pain of others
7. home, lack there of. exile.
8. identity, lackethereof, dissociative naming of identity
9. love
10. sight / disappearance
11. trespass/ negotiation / travel / searching / movement / excavation / evacuation /absence
12. physical violence
13. hunger
14. no answer, no response, no echo, no return, yet backwards movement
15. scabs, bruises, wounds,
16. stillness, death, between life and death, lying still, vacancy / vanishing
17. false identity
18. gates, walls, lack of entry, physical decay both of body and inert matter
19. sunken / slumped / collapse / impingement
20. rising
21. structural elements of building, supporting
22. cities as flesh, flesh as cities. elements constant yet metamorphosing
23. streets, alleys, paths – yet disrupted by the elements, dimensions and shapes
24. civilization vs. ideas
25. hunger

devices:
1. mixed metaphors
2. personification of elements and cities, objectification of bodies
3.

Angle: the elements of disappearing: ceasing to be material, ceasing to be color, the anti-city.

Civilization is defined by a set of rules naturally arisen from human nature pondering itself. “the founding deed of civilization is the imposition of the incest taboo itself” (Moses and Civilization: The Meaning Behind Freud’s Myth – Robert A Paul). Civilization and consciousness are irreconcilable. Without one, the other is impossible. A human exiled from community, therefore, can’t truly be human within the most generic framework of how we understand ourselves. Exile is by definition, dissociative; man without city, like the soul without body, and city without man, body without a soul. Without belonging to civilization and community, the human experience is searching through emptiness.

“it is significant that the powerless are not named in the captions. A portrait that declines to name its subject becomes complicit, if in inadvertently…

“There is only ever one subject when you are writing a poem. Most human sounds are made with the out-going breath. … When we breathe in, we feel comfortable. We can breathe in almost indefinitely. … A poem is a score for human speech. All poems are done with the dying breath. … A poem is a score for our dying. That’s the subject – the dying breath … and how do you ransom the dying breath. … Hopefully as you die and exhale your poem, hopefully, someone else is inhaling.” – lee young li

Through dissociative observation, the speaker is capable of imagining the pain of others (those he sees, and those out of sight.) He is careful to observe himself defying the instinct either to consume or be consumed by this pain. The speaker anecdotally bears witness to the death and dying of others (strangers) while he searches for a dwelling where he may capably love an idealized other (with whom he is supposedly familiar.)

The speaker makes frequent references to hunger and starvation, craving the other, rather than loving her naturally. This craving is elemental (fire seeking air) as well as bodily (hungering for a juicy fruit.)

This poem is not mysterious. It contains no riddle. It does not woo the reader with cleverness. Conversely, it is at once supernal and cutting to the bone. This contradiction is instinctively felt and understood by anyone experiencing the simultaneous separations and togetherness of the mind/body anti-binary (thus, it is understood by all.)

aside: You cant love strangers effectively in a community where you are other (where the self is destroyed) just as you cannot search for love through the pain of others – but what does this mean in world that is galvanized by global connectivity? putting love to use thru building ones own community where the self is whole (and wholly encompassed by the community) is the only hope we have? only thru retrograde, deepening into human experience, is he capable of resolution or redemption.

—-
Song of Songs
“In modern Judaism, the Song is read on the Sabbath during the Passover, which marks the beginning of the grain harvest as well as commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. Jewish tradition reads it as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel.[5] Christian tradition, in addition to appreciating the literal meaning of a romantic song between man and woman, has read the poem as an allegory of Christ (the bridegroom) and his Church (the bride).[6]”

In Judaism – this song celebrates returning home from exile with sexual union

In Christianity – this song insinuates that man is returning to his dwelling, and he dwells inside a woman. Man is the erudite, woman is the form of his material shell.

The Song of Songs itself can be interpreted through either the lens of spiritual or bodily union.

“The City in Which I Love You” as literal reimagining of the Song of Songs. Woman searches city for her beloved. Man objectifies (dissects) her body parts by likening them to animals and precious stones. He finds her in a garden. They can’t find each other in the city, but they can find each other in nature.

Heidegger
“The sky is the vaulting path of the sun, the course of the changing, moon, the wandering glitter of the stars, the year’s seasons and their changes, the light and dusk of day, the gloom and glow of night, the clemency and inclemency of the weather, the drifting clouds and blue depth of the ether. When we say sky, we are already thinking of the other three along with it, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four.”

“But “on the earth” already means “under the sky.” Both of these also mean “remaining before the divinities” and include a “belonging to men’s being with one another.” By a primal oneness the four-earth and sky, divinities and mortals-belong together in one.”

Forced immigration and exile are catalysts to the central struggle of Li Young Lee’s poem, The City In Which I Love You. These are crucial forces too, at the heart of Li Young Lee’s personal narrative. Thus, meaningful analysis of The City in Which I Love You without the context of a 20th century Chinese political landscape is viable, but frankly, at a loss for richness and nuance:

In the wake of World War II, the Chinese communist party promised to restore autonomy and strength to their devastated nation. The exodus of European occupation created the incendiary atmosphere prime for synchronicitous rumblings of a charismatic populist. Mao Ze Dong galvanized the Chinese people to lawless revolution, meanwhile devolving into the typical erratic paranoia of dictators. Many early supporters of the communist party were sent to labor camps or forced into exile. Lee’s family fled across Asia, eventually settling in the United States where Lee’s father attended seminary and became a presbyterian minister. The City In Which I Love You contains concrete parallels to Lee’s personal journey. The poem is riddled with the sorrows and disappointments felt by those who were destroyed by the Chinese communist party despite true and urgent commitment to their homeland. To read the poem is a transient experience of the effects of exile.

Li Young Lee adapts the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon) as a basis for his poem, The City In Which I Love You. Like the Song of Songs, his poem’s central narrative is a meandering search for God and community in the wake of exile. Lee’s use of mixed metaphor, personification of objects and elements, and objectification of body imbues a visceral richness to both his concept of indivisibility and to the speaker’s spiritual odyssey. The poem does not woo the reader with cleverness. Conversely, it is at once supernal and cutting to the bone — a contradiction instinctively felt and understood by the living. Here, mind, body, and spirit are one, indivisible.

The speaker’s spiritual odyssey is set upon unnamed cities. His mind is fixed on the idea of cities rather than specific qualities of a specific city. Suppose the concept of “city” is a manifestation of civilization — and civilization itself is defined by a set of rules arisen from human nature pondering itself.  Using this logic, separation of civilization and consciousness is irreconcilable. Without one, the other is impossible. A human exiled from community can’t truly be human within the essential framework of how we understand ourselves. Exile, then, by definition, is dissociative. Man without city, like the soul without body. And city without man, a body without the soul. Lacking community, the human experience is searching through emptiness. Heidegger’s “Building Dwelling Thinking” illustrates this concept with the following passage, “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build… Dwelling, however, is the basic character of Being in keeping with which mortals exist…”

The speaker wanders civilizations on the brink of destruction as he himself is destroyed; a nameless, displaced other. The poem’s language contains active verbs suggesting violence to self and buildings being torn asunder as means of becoming whole, or means of opening to the realms of the beloved. Stanzas 1-15 describe a consuming hunger for the beloved. The speaker periodically refers to his starvation, his craving the other and wanting to devour her. Here, craving is elemental (fire seeking air) as well as bodily (salivating for a juicy fruit.) The speaker yearns for consumption of (or consummation with) the beloved so she might live inside his body as one lives inside and is contained by the walls of community– a Romantic and Biblical construct.

While much of the poem deals with the sorrows of one man’s exile, and the absurdity of faith, stanzas 16-23 pose axial divergence: meditations on the suffering of others. Through dissociative observation, the speaker is capable of imagining the pain of others (those he sees, and those out of sight.) He is careful to observe himself defying the instinct either to consume or be consumed by external pain. The speaker anecdotally bears witness to the death and dying of others (strangers) while he searches for a dwelling where he may capably love an idealized other (with whom he is supposedly familiar.)

But what about the suffering stranger? In stanzas 16-23, the speaker steps out of himself and his consuming plight for spiritual love. His journey is meaningful, but the stillness provided by selfless intermission is, perhaps, more valuable. Here, the speaker’s passive stance may be interpreted as purposeful restraint of the ego, or, as a form of normative complicity, the latter, when defined by Hannah Arendt’s essay, Eichmann in Jerusalem, is the foremost vehicle for political evil. Susan Sontag explores the idea of normative complicity through portraiture with her essay, Regarding the Pain of Others. Sontag writes, “It is significant that the powerless are not named. A portrait that declines to name its subject becomes complicit, if inadvertently… Making suffering loom large, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to “care” more. It also invites them to feel the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local political intervention. With a subject conceived on this scale, compassion can only flounder — and make abstract. But all politics, like all history, is concrete…” Given the ideas posed by Arendt and Sontag, the speaker is a failure, his passivity, evil.

Contrarily, portraits or scenes of great suffering have been shilled since the dawn of civilizations. Displays of suffering are lauded as high art, used as marketing material, entertainment, demonstrations of political power, or means of dehumanization. In this sense, to restrain from consuming external suffering is a fundamental good.

Stanza 16 is a grammatical continuation of stanza 15, but unspools a subjective retrograde,

“I called to you,

and my voice pursued you,/ even backward/ to that other city”

The two stanzas construct a visual and linguistic breaking: the literal stanza break, the literal page break (stanza 15 and stanza 16 are presented on two separate pages,) and the linguistic break of calling the other to the self, and the voice’s subsequent pursuit of the other. The voice depicted by the poem skews traditional “call and answer” song formats by constructing a loop or echo effect which behaves in a similar pattern, but is different because it is perpetuated by a singular entity, moving forwards (calling the external to the self) and moving backwards (pursuing that which escapes.)

Stanzas 17,18 and 19 again, are a grammatical continuation of stanza 16. Each stanza break illustrates an insurmountable distance between the bodies of the subjects, living and dead, between the dead body and perceived intent, and between speaker and subjects, respectively.

“and my voice pursued you,/ even backward/ to that other city/ in which I saw a woman/ squat in the street

beside a body,/ and fan with a handkerchief flies from its face./ That woman/ was not me. And/ the corpse

lying there, lying there so still it seemed with great effort/ as though/ his whole being was concentrating on the hole/ in his forehead, so still/ I expected he’d sit up any minute and laugh out loud:

that man was not me;/ his wound was his, his death not mine./ And the soldier/ who fired the shot, then lit a cigarette:/ he was not me.”

The scene encompasses three individuals through the lens of our speaker. It is both intimate and isolating. One man has killed another, and a woman tends to the dead after the fact. Our speaker merely watches, observing that he is not the woman, he is not the dead man, and he is not the killer. He is kin to none, and does not bear their consequence of death, killing, or bereavement. The woman acts to respect and preserve the sanctity of the dead by fanning away/staving off flies with her handkerchief. The dead acts dead, still, a false foil for the living. The killer acts with nonchalance or anxiety — depending on the reader. The speaker’s detachment is twofold: He separates himself from his subjects, and he recognizes his subjects’ ownership of their lives and deaths. He does not search for his beloved in the pain of strangers, and he does not call forth his beloved to ease their pain. Presumably, in a dying city where he is other, the self destroyed, he can do neither.

In stanzas 20-23, the speaker expands upon the intimacy of first-hand observation to discuss his position at large, in the global context,

“And the ones I do not see/ in cities all over the world, the ones sitting, standing, lying down, those in prisons playing checkers with their knocked-out teeth:/ they are not me. Some of them are

my age, even my height and weight;/ none of them is me./ The woman who is slapped, the man who is kicked,/ the ones who don’t survive,/ whose names I do not know;

they are not me forever,/ the ones who no longer live/ in the cities in which/ you are not,/ the cities in which I looked for you.

The rain stops, the moon/ in her breaths appears overhead./ The only sound now is a far flapping./ Over the National Bank, the flag of some republic or other/ gallops like water or fire to tear itself away.”

Stanzas 20-23 explore dualities of the universal and the foreign. The speaker recognizes the shared human experience of suffering, political oppression, interpersonal violence and joy in communion with nature. In stanza 22-23, he removes himself from personal culpability for the intimate personal and structural workings of foreign entities.

The flag image in stanza 23 calls forth the image of the handkerchief in stanza 17. The handkerchief acts as mechanism for swatting off vehicles of decay (maggots,) while the image of the flag suggests an animal tearing itself away from a decaying institution (the national bank). The language surrounding both images is reminiscent of birds (flies, flapping.)

In stanzas 24-25, the speaker’s solipsistic dialogue reemerges, not as a narration of his sorrowful odyssey, but as a direct address of the beloved,

“If I feel the night/ move to disclosures or crescendos,/ it’s only because I’m famished/ for meaning; the night merely dissolves.

And your otherness is perfect as my death./ Your otherness exhausts me,/ like looking suddenly from here to impossible stars fading./ Everything is punished by your absence.”

Our speaker witnesses then meditates upon the suffering of strangers and finds only meaninglessness.  He addresses the beloved, a presumed source of meaning. He declares the”otherness” of his beloved “perfect as my death.” Until the fact of his death,  his death is abstract. Until the fact of some permanent transformation of the beloved’s “otherness” in relation to himself, the otherness of the beloved remains abstract, an ineffable barrier to their union.

Only through union with the beloved can he become whole, and only by finding community where his love is possible can this union occur. The speaker may be capable of easing external suffering, as a man made whole by love and community, if that suffering exists within the matrix of his community — a community with which he is intimately familiar.

In his passive role, is the speaker guilty of moral failure? To what extent is he responsible for the foreign communities he passes through? To what extent is an individual accountable for the immediate suffering of strangers? How tantamount is the notion of collective responsibility on a global scale? And finally, is the speaker even capable of easing singular or collective pain infesting communities that are foreign to him?

The speaker himself, suffers. His suffering derives from being dissociation from community and therefore strange to himself. To ease his suffering, he must become intimate with himself in the context of belonging. Only then can he become effective and whole.  As a stranger, strange to himself and to others, he is useless, lacking intimate knowledge of the self and therefore, intimate understanding of community. Without intimate understanding of community, and the relationships and structures therein, providing effective aid is impossible. In this line of logic, the notion of “foreign aid” itself  is an oxymoron. The foreigner is certainly capable of intervention, itself, neither good or evil, but fleetingly disruptive.

Arendt’s concept of the”banality of evil” is applicable to those who perpetuate the suffering of others by falling into the order of their community – neither questioning or fully comprehending its logic, nor owning culpability for the community’s activities as an extension of their action. The speaker is not a member of a community. He is ineffective. He can’t thwart the banality of evil where is presence is inconsequential.

In terms of “being good” and “doing good,”  the speaker, lacking identity, can’t claim to be or do anything. He can only be good and do good once and usher outsiders into his community once secure in a community defined identity. If intimate understanding of community structures is necessary to providing effective aid, good deeds can be most effectively applied to one’s own community, or those communities connected to it by shared experiences, histories, and value systems.

The line “Everything is punished by your absence” suggests the legions of others forced into exile and immigration, lost, alienated from the beloved, and incapable, like the speaker, of expressing practical compassion in service to an obliterated community. Human upheaval, then, results in a catastrophic loss of practical good. Belonging to a community not only endows man with a sense of identity and purpose, but also with a share of communal resources (both monetary and emotional).

In conclusion, Lee Young Li’s poem “The City in Which I Love You” offers an important lesson to compulsive altruists: Stay In Your Lane. or, Find Your Lane and Stay In It.

The Rescue Fantasy

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The Rescue Fantasy
I dreamed I rescued a tiger from a burning bus. Intrinsically, I knew it would explode and, intrinsically, I knew I was the one to save him. The tiger was my second grade crush, and the bus’ other occupants were my classmates. If I saved him, they would love me. What’s more, he would love me.

Tigers are dying. People are dying. People consider tigers a product/resource. People consider people a product/resource.

She is trapped. I un-trap the trap. They skin her. I skin them.

I dreamed I was a hero — and you were forced to love me, on account of my status.

I dreamed I swam with tigers and I could see underwater. Unblinking, I watched the brothers wrestle – a gordian knot of stripes submersed in the glow of blue. I woke to a lingering sense of great fear and great love.

Such dreams should remain a secret.

Autobiographical essay for IAIA Creative Writing MFA Application

lubroth2I have written seriously for 10 years, but I have written ecstatically since learning to read with the help of HookedOnPhonics. During my elementary school years in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was surrounded by artists and overwhelming landscapes. I wrote poetry to amuse myself and to contribute something beautiful to my environment (in the tradition of the state). I was also fixated on a reserve of antipodal memories of Tateyama, Japan. The tensions inherent to juxtaposing the aesthetic traditions of New Mexico and Japan drove my early development and made me into a lifelong expressive monster. In middle school, in Shanghai, China, I wrote poetry to establish my identity, and to record my loneliness, insecurity, and immature notions of love and sex. In high school, in San Jose, Costa Rica, I wrote poetry to experiment with my voice and communicate ideas. At Colorado College, I wrote poetry because I wanted an audience.

After graduating and moving to Seattle, I attempted to infiltrate Seattle’s writing community. One year of failed integration forced me to reassess my purpose and trajectory as a writer: if I needed to write, I decided to do it for myself (and with myself only.) I wanted to prove to myself I could write without external influences, acknowledgement, positive reinforcement or resources. I needed to learn to differentiate my love for writing from my love for being a figure in a writing community. I learned my lesson and am ready to become a small part of a community of my choosing (that also chooses me.)

While living in Seattle, I’ve produced a few short collections of poetry, but none are complete. Initially, I did not want to publish poems divorced from their collections (and context). In retrospect, however, fear of rejection and failure stymied my publishing ambitions. The social and political catastrophes of 2016 have since galvanized my commitment to contributing art to the public dialectic. My work typically develops out of historical study or research. I spent one year writing poems about Balanchine ballets and Balanchine ballerinas. I spent the past three years writing poems about endangered and extinct tiger species, jaguars, and sabertooth cats. I plan to continue work on this collection (titled jaguaro jaguaro and, alternately, You Tiger Many Times, #YTMT) while completing my MFA.

At Colorado College, I majored in English and Poetry, and minored in Philosophy. At the end of four years, I completed and presented a poetry collection of 46 poems titled, “Lethologica”. My college years catalyzed deep interest in poetic study but lack of enjoyment in academia: I love reading, but I do not love the competitive environment created by the study of literature with a capital L. To me, this environment is joyless. I want to attend the IAIA MFA program to become a stronger writer and to be exposed to work created by individuals who experience the world differently than I do. After studying and consuming stories created by white people for most of my life (despite not actually living in the Western Hemisphere) I want to learn about histories, traditions, and lived experiences not propagated by the power and resources vested in whiteness. I want to invest my time and money in institutions that uplift these stories and their creators.

Building creative communities and uplifting individual voices within these communities is central to my value system and identity. In high school, I founded my school’s literary and art magazine, student taught a “Literary Magazine” adjunct, and planned many events which showcased and supported the artists at my school. At college, I edited my school’s literary magazine for three years. I planned many college readings and events. In the span of three years, use of social media grew average poetry reading attendance from audiences of 20 to audiences of 100. Additionally, I established a music and poetry night at a local restaurant. The event employs local musicians and a student bartender weekly. Healthy art communities are my happy place. I can map each of my best friendships and proudest accomplishments to literary magazines and their communities.

Two years ago, I founded a multi-media erotic art magazine called Mouth&Mouth Magazine. Mouth&Mouth features original works of art, photography, poetry, fiction, video, and essays. Mouth&Mouth seeks to create a visceral experience that furthers the counterpoint to mainstream sexuality, as it exists today. The magazine presents a counterpoint to this ideal that is both celebratory and sensuous. I was inspired to start the magazine out of concern for the sexual psychological health of assault victims. I wanted it to be a safe, experimental resource or platform. For the magazine’s launch, I produced a promotional installation featuring collaborative work by respected sculptor, Robert Macdonald, and a 40 minute video piece by Rebecca Reilly. The interactive piece was displayed at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival in 2014. At present, the magazine is on hold due to lack of funding and lack of quality fiction submissions.

I welcome direct criticism of my work with excitement. Writing in the void with myself as sole critic has been alternately fun, challenging, tedious, and terrifying, but after five years, I need external feedback! I participated in too many workshop classes during undergrad (because I loved them) and picked up a habit of writing to please my peers. The workshop cowed me from unabashedly pushing the boundaries of language and screwing with tropes of gender presentation (primary interests at the time). Feminism in some (painfully flawed) form has become normalized in “progressive” societies, but it was barely normal then. I was labeled a “feminist poet” but didn’t self-identify as a “feminist poet”. I wrote about my experiences, obviously perceived through the lens of a cis-gendered, middle-class, white woman. My experiences were not “radical” by any means. At the time, frank expressions crafted by a femme lens were uncool and unfathomable to many of undergraduate peers. Additionally, the unapologetic materials were alien to the male professors my peers revered. I believe I am mature enough now and confident enough in the direction of my mind that workshop sessions will be beneficial rather than limiting.

My writing takes a lot of risks. Sometimes my experiments work, and sometimes my experiments are awful. My writing can be melodramatic, grandiose, and wordy. I can edit out the wordiness, but eliminating grandiose tendencies requires rehabilitation and a maintained regimen of exercise. Sometimes melodrama works to my advantage if I can control it. My strengths are my obsessive/paranoid tendencies and my knack for formal poetry and sonnet writing. I love playing with forms, breaking them, or doing surprising things with them. Formal writing reins in my wordiness.

I don’t foresee any trouble with completing 25 hours per week of study. I work full time, so I will be unable to contact my professor during the hours between 9-5 unless correspondence is prescheduled.

Throw Away Tigers / The Paper Tiger

lubroth13

Throw Away Tigers/ The Paper Tiger
A wholly white tiger is the result of a genetic mutation featuring a stripe-pattern visible only under reflected light. Although the mutation does occur in the wild, those with it rarely survive, as they are often rejected by other tigers, and are easy to spot by prey.

Stripe-less white tigers exist.
When a stripe-less-ness persists
despite nature’s intention.

Deception at inception. [human tinkering]
Her genetic exception, only visible in reflection
that she herself is blind to. Whiteness’ roulette~

Desiring her white color, they bred her with her brother.
The father to her daughter, and the uncle of her mother.

The public lauded her son as foolproof meme fodder;
his fanged face, with age, becoming odder and odder.

Kenny the down syndrome tiger died in 2008.
For the record, he did not have down syndrome.

Merely, the same gene that causes the white morph
causes the optic nerve to be wired to the wrong side
of the brain. Among other defects such as cleft palates,
scoliosis of the spine, mental impairments…

“The Deception of the White Bengal Tiger”
Stripes zipped up on the vertebrae – cross stitched
on the spine. Skeleton tiger wears his bones and hollows
on the outside. Mutant body, an illusion of shadow bones
and light hollows, as if negative space was space itself
desiring to disappear.

Ghosts sprung from the white man’s burden to see himself
in every skin, to refract rather than absorb. Cancerous
disappearing into each other, a homogenous cloud
of miserable flesh.

Folk from the snow, living in light, learned to yearn for
and comprehend pure whiteness as a device for reflecting
their bodies, denying darkness deemed unfit to slip into,
containing all colors, including blood, language of being
and not being, skeleton key.

You can end the misery by saying no.

Do not make any tiger angry, not even the sweet ones
who can’t even see you.

You learn to not see him, slinking like tumbleweeds
burned onto cement, as his cross eyes never see you.

He holds his stillborn siblings in his stripes –
like the twin who leaves a tooth in his twin as proof
they were once two, not only one who drained the other
in the womb.

Blood brothers, head to head, in their dirt and bamboo conclave.
Bastard’s stripe on bastard stripe, two wrestling desert shadows.
Heard and not seen – being only speculation of a colorless dream.

[I see you in my genes]

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The Night Sun / Our Nocturnal Sky

lubroth5
The Night Sun / Our Nocturnal Sky
To conserve is to save by speaking, by holding on

I did not know my sister like I thought I did.
Though we recognized each other from birth,
our first bright cries announcing the night time
we mistakenly inhabited with our bad bodies.

I could not stop what happened after.
She lived. Sometimes, with me.
Sometimes adjacent to my living.

This I know for certain:
My sister, living without me,
survived without me
saving her.

Other sisters too linger after death –
as smoke in the mirror, a familiar face.

I do not sense my face in the smoking mirror.
I see there is a source of heat – intuit fire –
from its effect on me after.

I tried to look my sister in the eye, but I
could not catch her. She would not let me.

She would not recall to my face even a detail
about her capture. We survived after the fact
(of capture). Being captured, where capture
occurs after the fact.

When she breathed, he stifled it.
Held it back. Trapped her.

Walk with me sister, monster.