roots

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One afternoon I went into Paperback Books—a place that gives me hope in the continued existence of independent book nooks—wanting to find something to read for a trip, and caught myself in the act of gravitating repeatedly to male authors.

While it’s not news that a disproportionate amount of study and thought and credit has gone to white men—and as of late, it’s not news that some of those admired authors are not-so-admirable people—it’s still a slap in the face when you see your own bias.

Since then, I’ve made a conscientious effort to read and support poets, writers, essayists that embrace being a woman, person of color, mixed descent, immigrant, and/or some/all of the above.

This proved to be an easy task as, in the same way many poets come from places of queerness or trauma, the lack of solidity in culture and heritage lends itself well to poetic thought. Without the stability of external structures, we learn to grow our own. Life in a liminal state spurs the creation of your own language, changing the wave in the mind.

I connect to the idea of not having solid roots in one nationality or culture: less of a general rootlessness, though, and more of a potent self-contained-ness.

I once overheard someone saying that no matter where he was in the world, no matter how far he traveled from the idea of home, he would picture his roots growing from his heart, stretching down to the earth, traveling under vast oceans.

The look of calm across his face, lit by a dim mosquito lamp on a warm night, as he said, and they come back, always, to my heart.

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Here are some poems that I’ve encountered, and loved, during my attempts at diversifying thought. All excerpts below, so I recommend clicking through.

1. Rootless by Jenny Xie.

Can this solitude be rootless, unhooked from the ground?

No matter. The mind resides both inside and out.
It can think itself and think itself into existence.

I sponge off the eyes, no worse for wear.
My frugal mouth spends the only foreign words it owns.

At present, on this sleeper train, there’s nowhere to arrive.
Me? I’m just here in my traveler’s clothes, trying on each passing

town for size.

I found Jenny Xie’s poem Ongoing in the New York Times and had a moment of, wait, what, was this written for me? How do you know me? These are from Jenny Xie’s debut collection of poems, Eye Level, which centers around her experience as a Chinese-born, American-raised, constant traveler.

2. Lexical Gaps by Shastra Deo.

याद
/yaad/ My childhood, remembered: mouths unsynced
with sound, words swollen and sworn. Throats
dismantled from the inside out. My tongue turned
plosive, poised at the tip of my teeth,
dubbing out of dialect.

This poem reflects a tongue tied up by a Indian-Australian-Fijian heritage. I relate to the feeling of muteness, often followed by sadness, that arises when there is an absence, or a stumble, between you and your mother tongue. From Shastra’s Deo collection The Agonist.

3. Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong by Ocean Vuong.

Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.

Ocean Vuong is one of my favorite poets. Some of his poems address the trauma of the Vietnam War and his own status as a refugee; all of them contain a unique voice of flow and sweetness. Even the mere title of his debut poetry collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, takes my breath away.

~ second image : three studies from the tremeraire by cy twombly ~

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