Holiest are those who eat alone.

I love this poem by the incredible writer, Cathy Park Hong (1976-), whose 2020 essay collection Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning is probably the book I reccomended most last year and urge you to all to read.

a watercolor painting of a hummingbird
Watercolor by Kristina Closs

“A Wreath of Hummingbirds”

I suffer a different kind of loneliness.
From the antique ringtones of singing
wrens, crying babies, and ballad medleys,
my ears have turned
to brass.

They resurrect a thousand extinct birds,
Emus, dodos, and shelducks, though some,
like the cerulean glaucous macaw,
could not survive the snow. How heavily
they roost on trees in raw twilight.

I will not admire those birds,
not when my dull head throbs, I am plagued
by sorrow, a green hummingbird eats
   me alive
with its stinging needle beak.

Then I meet you. Our courtship is fierce
in a prudish city that scorns our love,
as if the ancient laws of miscegenation
are still in place. I am afraid
I will infect you

after a virus clogs the gift economy:
booming etrade of flintlock guns sag.
Status updates flip from we are all
connected to we are exiles.
What bullshit

when in that same prudish city,
they have one exact word to describe
   the shades
of their sorrow, when they always
   sit together
and eat noodles during white days
of rain, in one long table,
though not all.

As a boy, my father used to trap
little brown sparrows, bury them in
   hot coal,
and slowly eat the charred birds alone
in the green fields, no sounds,
no brothers in sight.

Holiest are those who eat alone.
Do not hurt them, do not push them,
   insult them,
do not even stare at them, leave
them to eat alone, in peace.

We have only one minute and I love you.

picture of a little boy in a doorway in Oman
Child in a doorway in Oman, 2007. Photo by me.

“Tablets V” by Dunya Mikhail (1965-)


Light falls from her voice
and I try to catch it as the last
light of the day fades …
But there is no form to touch,
no pain to trace.


Are dreams
taking their seats
on the night train?


She recites a list of wishes
to keep him from dying.


The truth lands like a kiss—
sometimes like a mosquito,
sometimes like a lantern.


Your coffee-colored skin
awakens me to the world.


We have only one minute
and I love you.


All children are poets
until they quit the habit
of reaching for butterflies
that are not there.


The moment you thought you lost me,
you saw me clearly
with all of my flowers,
even the dried ones.


If you pronounce all letters
and vowels at once,
you would hear their names
falling drop by drop
with the rain.


We carved
our ancestral trees into boats.
The boats sailed into harbors
that looked safe from afar.


Trees talk to each other
like old friends
and don’t like to be interrupted.
They follow anyone who
cuts one of them,
turning that person
into a lonely cut branch.
Is this why in Arabic
we say “cut of a tree”
when we mean
“having no one”?


The way roots hide
under trees—
there are secrets,
faces, and wind
behind the colors
in Rothko’s untitled canvases.


Will the sea forget its waves,
as caves forgot us?


Back when there was no language
they walked until sunset
carrying red leaves
like words to remember.


It’s true that pain
is like air, available
but we each feel
our pain hurts the most.


So many of them died
under stars
that don’t know their names.


If she just survived with me.


A flame dims in the fireplace,
a day slips quietly away from the calendar,
and Fairuz sings, “They say love kills time,
and they also say time kills love.”


The street vendor offers tourists
necklaces with divided hearts,
seashells to murmur the sea’s secrets in your ear,
squishy balls to make you feel better,
maps of homelands you fold
in your pocket as you go on your way.


I am haunted by the melody
of a forgotten song
sung while two hands
tied my shoelaces into a ribbon
and waved me goodbye to school.


If I could photocopy
the moment we met
I would find it full
of all the days and nights.


It won’t forget the faraway child,
that city whose door stayed open
for passersby, tourists, and invaders.


The moon is going to the other
side of the world
to call my loved ones.


The seasons change
colors and you come and go.
What color is your departure?

I wash her hands with summer rain.

Illustration by Kristina Closs

“Taproot and Cradle” by Khaled Mattawa (1964-)

Evening coffee, and my mother salts
her evening broth—not equanimity,
but the nick of her wrist—

and my mother bakes bread,
and my mother hobbles knees locked,
and my mother carries the soft stones of her years.

Fists balled in my pocket,
riding the century’s drift,
I carry a wish and a wound.

It’s raining a noisy frost,
the inhabitants’ cruel happy laughs,
their sighs and curses,

small upheavals that slide
from their bellies,
down to their freezing toes..

And the city trudges, and night
loosens its reins, a stolen bulldozer,
a tank full of clowns.

Who’s calling
my name
from the window now?

She touches her hair—
She caresses her beauty
like the coffin of a child.

O pen of late arrivals.
O knife of darkened temples.
O my scurrying, my drunken snakes. 

I wash her hands with summer rain.
I remember the killed enemy.
I remember my good friends.