Poems by Ji Strangeway 2017

Ji strangewayJI STRANGEWAY is a poet who focuses her work on embracing beauty and transcendence. She has been writing since the age of 15. Her immediate family immigrated to Denver, Colorado during the late 1970s as refugees of the Vietnam War. Writing from the margins of gender, orientation, and circumstance, her work is an unconventional call to action. Her words are for the dreamers and the idealists. Strangeway is based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @jistrangeway or Facebook ji.strangeway

poetry of living

i should’ve written poetry
when i lived in vietnam
but didn’t.

spent days in sunbaked air
on the back of xe oms
with chain-smoking taxi drivers
crunched between
serendipitous roundabouts
; that motorcycle grinder
risking my life
just to meet friends
for xôi and chè.

life is cheap.

girls in masks
and opera gloves
dreaming of alabaster skin
they called me pretty face
just because they loved
the japanese aesthetics

these chị and em, so pretty
needn’t complement việt kiềus
for i would trade anything
to speak from the heart
like them.

i owned nothing
but two suitcases
emptied out with knives
gadgets from cooking school
three out-of-body novels the
communists would surely jail me for
had i not been inside my own skin
a coffee snob—i stashed enough
yirgacheffes to freeze for 3 mos.
to end up craving grass jelly
swirled in ice instead.

echoes rose, burnt into memory
a thin, unlived past—
roosters choked daybreak
funeral rituals amplified three city blocks.
motorcycles robbed and crashed all silence
purified by children’s voices
made entirely of bird songs

heat, thick enough to bite
rain, dense enough to bathe.
the elderly, strong and sufficient
i looked to the wise who aged
without aging.

ho chi minh,
i should’ve been writing poetry
but i didn’t
because

i was too busy
living.

in america,
i am not

and that is why
i’m writing poems.

shadow

i promised to bring her back
the girl who drifted in shadow.

spent a good ten years
cutting up memory, thinking
this puzzle could never be reassembled.

convinced myself
maybe silence was better
‘cause the monastic temple of my being
was built on inspiration alone.

i shut out the girl
who wrestled demons and untangled hearts
brought vision from dark-love
ate egos for breakfast, brunch, and tea.

i found her standing
in the brooklyn apartment
some ten years past
staring down at her cat
marveling at the divine creature
so small, yet
such a constant force of love
that can conquer anything…
and she thought, ‘i am like that.’

i interrupted and said,
“i would be too
if you’d come back.
i’ve been only half of me
the other is in shadow.”

she peered into me
touched the walls of my being
her palms cold as the monastic floor
she opened the shutters and whispered..

“i will go with you, but first
you have to remember, i’ve never strayed.
it’s you, who’ve created this shadow.”

First

the stain of first
a rite of passage where
life was blank until we rolled
into the red.

forest hills, queens
a cold motionless slab of
stone houses, anonymous families
cornered off by franchise pharmacies.

in the early morning markets
marbled rye warmed the air
i came into new york
a virgin to this city
to taste a whole neighborhood
in one loaf of bread.

my russian friend rina
loved the ramones. took me to
st. marks where the “cool people are”
flipping open holy menus of blintzes
at “the kiev,”
i tasted russia for the first time.

that year
i entered film school
penniless.
dieted on images, licked the chemical air
lugged heavy cameras
turned deaf ears to gospels by
failed screenwriters
and visionless union dp’s

i crushed on an irish girl
tasted sour fear dissolving like sugar
on her lemon lips.

the all-boy class bullied me
i fought for art against hollywood machinery
michael, the gentler columbian
long-haired and exotic
took me on the “e” train

back to forest hills.

we shot 16mm in his apt
they set up lights
they set me up
“we have no actors
you’re gonna play his girlfriend”

but—

lights, camera—
action, michael tore the veil
his tongue swelled onto mine
keep rolling… keep the camera rolling.

“don’t go home ”
he said. we shared the bed,
and i bled…

that morning
i was a different shape
once a box of inquisitions
now a pool of resolute calm.

michael protected
took care of me
fought rude men off me
a real guy that all girls wish
selfish boys were made of.

we walked together
along forest hills
i took in aromas of fresh bread
breaking the cellophane air

i took in the fullness
of my new body
the one pressed open—
hot like that loaf…

to taste the city inside me
swell into vibrancy
unexpectedly…whole
a woman.

i could not ask
for a better first.

fervor

what if i told you about
the new me
the future me
would you believe?

would you believe
that i can see myself
10,000 years from now?

would you believe
that i live in color
and nothing is
black/white
only the earth
has
black
and white
heaven—white
hell—black

but everything else is color?

would you believe
i can hold my breath
and breathe at the same time?
that my vision is not only
360 but inter-depth
and every cell of my being
can see?

what if i told you
about the new me
the future me?

would you believe that i live
on the edge of an abode made
entirely of rays? and my bedroom
has ten thousand closets where
i keep, not shoes, jackets or hats—
but memories of you
and the times i’ve been with you
and so many of you?

what if i told you that
my gaze can stop objects in motion—
simply because these thoughts
are everything i touch, see, feel
and know?

would you believe if i told you
that i make love in color
with color and that every color in me
is also in you?

what if i told you
of the new Me
the one that looks back
and tells the passé me,

‘why do you take life
so seriously?’

look—“I” say
look—we are inseparable
it doesn’t matter if
no one understands you
everyone else is buried in the past
2017 will be 20,217 tomorrow
for us, time never drifts
never wanders
not bound
is always
now.

so look—
look at Me.

to walk in beauty.

i thought to walk in beauty
meant strolling through forests
along beaches, glowing sunsets
falling into a loving embrace.

i thought to walk in beauty
meant pretty without makeup
fine threads, fitted garb
glitter and all.

i thought to walk in beauty
meant the grace of a dancer
deer, dove, drifting white feathers.
i thought to walk in beauty
meant being flanked by
entourages reflecting
my best sides.

i thought to walk in beauty
meant living courageously
dying dignified
holding the smooth key
that opens
heaven’s gate
easy
like
butter.

but to truly walk in beauty
i had better start by crawling
i had better learn how to see
and speak.

to see without thinking
i saw with weak eyes.
and to speak without feeling
i spoke without heart.
to walk in beauty

is to commit without crime
when my heart sees
and speaks

I am then free
to walk in beauty.

true

her body contains a bus
pieces of it
not just memories
but of what used to be
that bus

everywhere she went
admirers ogled
such a thing of beauty
could shame aphrodite

she got sick of it
in the name of g*d, she prayed
“if only they loved me ‘cause of me
not because of my beauty.”

she boarded the bus
a cheerful boy came on
smacked gum, reached
beneath his coat
he would lose his virginity
to 72 more
in heaven

in the name of…
arab or jew
pretty or ugly
it doesn’t matter

everything went black.

i met her in nyc
five years later
she breathed carefully
through the “CK”
window of the wristwatch
lodged inside her throat
a sick iconic reminder
of the timeless disposable
youths of calvin klein.

g*d’s cruel joke
forced her to eat words
for being too beautiful, to be true.

her face was graced
with miniature faint traces
of foreign metal pieces
leaving exit wounds daily

from her body
that temple of pain
she spoke, “be careful of what
you wish. i wanted to be ugly”

but did she know?
she must’ve been
so unimaginably loved
to be given all and everything
she ever wanted.

when all she really wanted
was the truth about love.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so I that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing…” — St. Paul

Title: faded.

i won’t come to you in theory
the theory that i have patience or charity
the theory that i care
the theory that i won’t hurt
the theory that i won’t delay.

i won’t come to you in theory
the theory that i’d find silence
the theory that peace matters
the theory that love, health, and breath
come first.

i won’t come to you in theory
the theory that i’d quit hurrying
the theory that i’d spend more time
with friends
family
and everything
spent more wisely.

i won’t come to you in theory
the theory that i’d be kinder
that my ego won’t blind us
that ambition is never better than
now.

i won’t come to you in theory
the theory that tomorrow will be different
that i won’t dwell on yesterday
or the year before
or moments that seem much dearer.

i won’t come to you in theory
i have run out of theories
i am so theoried out that i don’t
have a theory for this theory

if you could,
please hear me out
so that i’d have nothing left
to be heard.

i want come to you
the way i came into this life
unhurried, open and free.

i want to come to you in being
in the being i was
before i became somebody else
or something someone
expected of me.

i want to come to you in symmetry
even if marred or slightly broken
to be pieced together with some
resemblance…

if you created me as an art piece,
eloquent poem or beautiful song
but no one saw
read
or listened
i’d fade
and become
unrecognizable.

the only theory is
i never planned to be forgotten
or to become anything less
than your masterpiece

i come to you in earnest
to ask if you remember

me.

the strength

in the a.m.
the time that birds stir
i rise up and into the dark
i utter, “please,
please give me strength”

my lithe muscles
flex to lend power
my sleeping lungs
swell to drink air
my stilled nerves
tingle to invite pulse
while my eyes
avoid all light.

i’m not looking to be live wire
i’m not looking to be superhero.

the body
a machine
well-oiled and calibrated
can do anything
but its power is helpless
for it totally depends
on me.

the strength i seek
comes from the one
that blinks stars
the one that makes gems shine
moves rivers
lifts plants to arc to the sky

the strength i seek
revolves earth
balances planets
redirects winds
creates storms and tsunamis.

the strength i seek
melts a lover’s gaze
renders music from laughter
heals a wounded heart

the strength i seek
makes water so clear
savorless and almost weak…

yet this water gives life
so simply, yet so strong.



worthless

the minneapolis sky
holds oceans in the clouds
like a sponge filled with spirit
squeezing out each drop
like a miser.

the city emptied herself of
thirsty crowds that fled to bars
nights before.

i’ve been here a few times
four if not more, with no reason
to return.

but the secret life
in the minnesota heights
harbors a pilgrimage
that beckons the acclivity
of love each year.

i looked to the ziggurat
my forbidden star
knowing the full shame
of how i dim myself.

in the bethel
downpour of light showered
and cleansed the streets
of towns and cities
living inside of me.

i came out of this
not any purer
any better
any bigger than anyone else
but worthless

smaller, than ever before.

a total mess, even ugly
the way a road feels
torn up for the rebuilding
of a new city.

i ache like an abyss
in disbelief of how greatness
can become of this endless
depth.

worthless
i become small
like the eye of a needle
for the joy it must feel
when success nears it.

so i shall wait for the day
when the saints feel exalted
when they can thread the universe
through me

and they can only do so
when i become worthless enough
to be this small.

unexpected.

the treacherous calm
of the cold sea clarified
the end.

in limerick
whirling winds wrapped their arms
around my neck.

on the bluff,
i looked down at the cove
where lovers died,
too in love to conquer
unexpected tides.

the winds swept me
into their story
into those desolate places
that were once oasis
and i realized that we drowned
prematurely

someplace…

in normandy
the winds returned along the seafront
lured me to the one-to-many casinos
from cabourg to deauville

while others gambled
i waited in the lobby on an armchair for hours
settling into the comfort of being entirely invisible.

i watched steady flows of the nouveau riche
come and go.

i thought of you, and how you loved casinos
and i’ve always hated them…

i played monopoly because of you
i played monogamy
i played matrimony

and it in the end
i played martyr.

when the winds returned
to the gambling shores
i watched the banality of humanity
test the final tide and how it just takes
two lovers to survive.

i dreaded the unexpected.
i felt colder than the midnight sea
i felt the winds howling across the shore
i closed my eyes to the lives drowning inside.

lawless

i took a bus to the meatpacking district when
the streets were once filled with broken glass, used needles,
dirty white men goose necked from cars where hookers
and the homeless roamed.

the district smelled like dead bodies
in summer nights the sticky fumes of blood and gore
rose invisible curtains closing off washington street to the river.

life secretly coalesced behind black doors
hearts of darkness thumped feverishly
in the underground, gay, trans, fetish, weird world of
ostracized-belonging.

on dance-naked nights, ‘nature girl’ took the stage
lawless music, soul, synth, bass and electric edge
controlled nubile bodies
grinding in tribal rooms of sweaty perfume

here, i saw a single light cutting
through dancing shadows
i followed this light
to its origin.

i didn’t speak
i didn’t say my name
lured by the beam
i touched the angel’s hair
then kissed her.

for three hours
we made love on the dance floor
her friends stopped by to say “hi
remember us?”
rituals encircled us
strangers stopped to exclaim,
“you two look so hot together, don’t stop!”
she removed a sweater
made a tent over our heads
to make the world go away.

inside our private makeshift oasis
she told me her name.

“ori,” she said.
“it means my light.”

on this night of the degenerates
what was the king of darkness thinking
when he ushered in such a beautiful thing
to tread a world where nothing holy wandered?

to be this bright among the damned
g*d breaks rules now and then.

those years

l.a. rooftop at sunrise
the h-o-l-l-y…sign five miles north
i practiced “repulsed monkey” and other tai chi forms
stared out at life insurance buildings crowding the skyline

those new years in l.a.
driving down pico with windows bare
blasting electronica
half-gloved, never drinking
just thinking

how my life would come into being
in this third chapter.

those new years in l.a.
i was a vampire
parked my car at 6 am
waking up at 4.

i followed the underworld
wherever i smelled grit, lost youths, and spiritual vacuity.
i talked to zombies, the half-so, partially-me, pseudo-awake, merchant-guru and soul thieves.
i was in their caverns
meeting rooms
bathrooms
and bars
watching them finding ways
to put down g*d.

i pretended to be a non-believer and had them believe that i was…that i was unbelieving and if i believed in anything it would always be unbelievable.

but this was how i got them
this was how i led them home
even if they never wanted to admit
that certain words melt pain in the center
like the burnt spots of crème brûlée
they can hate the poet
but they can’t deny
how the words tasted.

i never asked them to believe
but only got them to know
that the darker you are…

the lighter you fall.

hunger
the humid fat of new york
sat on us all summer july
i wanted to breathe,
to inhale you.
we escaped to the mountains
three hours north.
at the “last chance” café
the cook personally came out
to serve us,
she wanted to greet
the two innocents
in love.
with jealous eyes, she said “good luck”
her words, a slippery blade
ground their fine edges
along the whetstone.
i found it hard to believe
that eating her food
meant swallowing
the 13 year curse.
that night, i fell onto the sheets
pulling off my boots, you said,
“you’re so cool…”
i dug them into the mattress.
we kissed.
we became all things earth,
and the bed heaved
hungrily
just
like
us.
the moon howled
from our room…
we crept downstairs
like guilty children
having spilled something…
woken up the entire inn
filled with seniors
who in the end
they didn’t need earplugs after all.
savoring clean air
we curled onto the bench
texan desert stars invaded
the eastern sky
each blink
mirrored
scattered
diamonds.
to think, 13 years later
i’d go back
to the “last chance”
to find the same chef serving
the same food…
i looked at her
wondering
if she remembered me
what she said to me
and if my heartbreak
made the esopus creek
flood the valleys
of those mountains.
as much
as i wanted her to eat
her satisfied words
i said nothing,
ordered nothing
yet, i had not
forgotten
that in the end
i still had
hunger.

the forgotten

i was told
that when you created me
it was with love

when you sat down to sketch,
did you paint the town
and all its troubles, too?

i was told
that when you created me
you didn’t want to let go

when i boarded
the craft warm like
a womb…

why did i feel so buried
inside a tomb?

i was told
that when you created me
you loved me so.
so much, that tears of the ocean
ran dry

for years i wept
because of you.

i too, create like you
i filled myself up with the ocean
to give back all that you shed

oh father
mother
if you only knew
how much love
created you, too.

Close

we slipped into the purple night
you and i
in the rowboat.

moonlight slipped between us,
caressing silver edges
of your face.

your breath moved
more silently than shadows.

your hair tasted of honey
and sea salt.

parted lips,
those even gaps
held us in,
like the sacred sea

no one would’ve known
that it once parted
just for us.

i wanted to say everything
that my thoughts denied

strange,
how love
has no distance
no struggle
no social
no climb

effortless
we mingle like wind
never clinging
yet touching
the essence

of everything.

The Lotus of Strangers

my cousin and i took the bus
to a bus
to get on another bus
to get on a train
to catch the metro

oh how i hated
the suburbs of france
and paris

i did nothing for days
but videotape
my 84-four-year-old grandmother
exercise.

how cute.

when my aunt came home
after a 14-hour work day,
she cooked a viet-laos feast
and fired up the propane tank
to deep fry
while i
swapped flies.

i was a vagabond
in the city of car dealerships
and gas stations
lining homes
gated by
iron fences

behind the stone house
hid a mystery forest
it was my
“ji in wonderland.”

i snuck behind
graffitied walls
trespassed the opposite world
daydreamed about the angel…

in the rumbling hubbub
of screeching metal on metal
in the paris metro
stood a desperately poor
but punishingly beautiful girl
she was blessed with g*d’s ink
and fell from the heavens
as a fallen masterpiece
to the earth’s crusty museum.

we stared at each other
like a photographer
extracting justified beauty
from the dull ordinary.

her gaze would break leica lenses
but i captured her anyway—
not to be fatal

but because

because
we were strangers
exposed like
photographic paper
bathed in the flow
of once-ness
resurfacing
in dustless darkness

i watched her
come to form
melt open slow
like polaroid
unsure
and excited
to witness
magic.

the sunlight of years
and time hardly withers

my angel fades,
only to return in darkness
again and

again.

stain

for her,
love is a crime
a rush she got
from robbing hearts

she couldn’t sell them wholesale
so hoarded many

i saw her in blue eyes
i knew her in brown eyes
i lived in her green eyes

she always walked away
with a money bag that burst with dye
and wondered why

doesn’t she know?
every heart that breaks
leaves a little
stain.

facet

of the thousand eyes
i remember the chill
of waking up with
pounding
aching
love.of those thousand eyes
she wore many
within one pair.

of the eyes in my eyes
i long to dream her
into being.

of these eyes
they say
innumerable as stars
manifold as goddess durga
infinite as the rise and fall of the sea
unbreakable
unfadeable
unstealable
unkillable

elusive enough
to be hidden
from grace.

she never blinks
and if she does
this world
would
end.



boston

summer in boston
strewn with punks of allston
streets with the strife of manchester
mocked by hollyweird freaks
mastering moonwalks

five parties every night
one behind each wall
above,
so below.

i studied brenda spencer that year
a trigger happy 16-year-old
who hated mondays
that much she lined up targets
like ducks in a row.

in the library
tabloid fossils on microfiche
i researched for my opus
the history of
every homicidal teen
that ever existed

that year, i met
hippies and shamans
who took me to sacred gardens

it was the first time
i could hear the soil cry.

each leaf, pregnant with life
secreted whiskey honey
each tree, bore slit wrists
begging for the palmistry
of their annuals to be told.

i heard stories
stories everywhere
from the dead
the living
the half dead
walking
and crawling…

in maine
near steven king’s
virtual domain
we rode the backcountry
where trucks
broke dust
making no distinction
between
twigs
and
legs.

here,
the soil
didn’t cry
but wailed.

everything
made
perfect
sense.

the macabre of
buried
strangled
pasts
fastened demons
and ghosts
embalmed
along the northeastern sky’s
hollyweird walk of fame.

lined up shamelessly
for all to see

eastcoast westcoast
here, the show doesn’t
go on.

it really is.

misery loves company
stephen king
didn’t write stories.

the stories wrote him.

devotion

the four-leggeds had homes
fed by their masters
they wandered

a nine-year-old
i fed them half my candy bar
offered a hotdog
and the black labrador
dug a hole to bury it
like it was the most precious
stone.

these creatures waited patiently
at my doorstep like frosted snowmen
in three feet of snow, storms, and rain

i chased them away
when their owners called me a thief.

what did i do that was different
that their guardians did not?

as a child, i gave them a giggle, a name,
the innocence of my words, shyness
in touching their soft bellies.

they
followed
sacrificed
protected
waited
walked me to school

at the fence i’d say “it’s time to go home”
and they turned away obediently
sadly…

desperate seekers they were
if g’d could only know
how these saints dressed in fur
longed to a hang their halos
around a little girl’s heart.

and when they cried for help
i couldn’t do anything.

pet loka, do you hear me?
did you open your gates
lay down your bridges
to let these little brave ones
come home?

alone

north hudson
persistent nights
cut into my chest
at midnight

my motorcycle
parts manhattan

the muffler’s throat
its hunger, murderous bear
with tonsils taken out
singing eulogies
and love songs.

a single beam
threads golden ribbons
into the black road
then vanishes

alone
i lean into the sawmill
river’s curves

alone
i am the single ray
of headlight

alone
my bones quiver
like candle flame.

alone
i become light
knowing dark
too well

alone
i enter the deathless mouth
of each route
knowing

that the rush of life
meets me
when i am
alone.

vitruvius

the star in my body
kissed golden anise
all five.

it sunk once
in pho bo where
you can taste
my country
with a spoon

two eyes
one nose
two ears
do the math

stretch my fingers
my arms
my legs

da vinci
couldn’t tell lies

look at me
this glimpse isn’t
found in the sky

i am here
mother
father

all five.