Poems written in response to the pandemic and a class on postcolonial literature. Copies are available for purchase here.

Trim Size: 4.75 x 6.75 in
Printing: 4-color RISO with saddle stitch binding, edition of 14

1   inciting incident


    I had gathered a
                                        bright cluster

    of lights which
    I used to warm myself
    but after all they were alive
    never really mine to hold

    so when I ventured into troubled waters
    and stumbled
    each dimension of the
    landscape was suddenly

                                          articulated, each light suddenly separated
by a great distance and nuanced layers of difference

    as they scattered from my arms
    across the loop of the horizon
    back to where I had found them

    hoping I would in time make my own light
    I swam

2    reality check, in the flesh
    recent                                                memory

             draw and erase, draw and erase

    the waning usefulness of this lungful of air
    guides me to the surface of the water

    as I exhale
    the lights in my wake
    a constellation flickering in the dark
    anticipate their newest companion
    but this breath only manages a sputtering spark
    and evaporates

    just as everyone starts feeling disappointed my lungs exclaim:
    we are merely

                    temporary homes for
                                                                       barely tangible form

    and if we crystallized air all the time
    you’d choke on it or else
    be too dazzled to find your way

3   self-fulfilling prophecy
    I am convinced that a
                                                                   perpetually slipping

    pattern which hung in my dorm room
    is the most precise portrait
    I have ever painted of my parents.

    now, I
                                        on my way back
                                            to navigate

    these same

Water                                melon colors

    keeping the pattern rolled up
    in a closet at home for fear
    that it might tessellate out of my wall to rejoin its source
    that I might fall into its relentless zigzag philosophy
    communicating cross-culturally
    clumsily and
    to mirrored fragments of myself.

4   thirteen
    in my mind
    this is where our paths begin to overlap
    and in the vagueness of my observations I see
    how inscrutable I must have been


    there is a tenderness
    that must be watched breathlessly
    so it doesn’t flicker out


    there is a fearfulness
    that must be watched breathlessly
    so it doesn’t flare up

                inconclusive, but    brave        and grateful

    I start staring contests so my eyes can say:

Whether we understand each other or not many years from now,
thank you for being here

5   family rendezvous, shanghai
                                                                                bitter circles,

                              promised that we were singing the same chorus,
    even as our voices failed to harmonize,
    even as I wondered if I was out of tune,

                                                                    had, nevertheless, a joyful

6    parhelion
My father’s home in Virginia
is not so different from my own:

trimmed lawn, quiet, wandering street,
room for a new sister,
time for play, time for piano,
snacks from Trader Joe’s,
museum visits on the weekend,
window shopping, just enough
humor to stop for ice cream and yet

through a red fog of misunderstanding
all I see is a man who thinks he can slip me into his suburban
dollhouse the way he slips my faded portrait into his wallet and
all he sees—I don’t know, I fled before he could say or
was too convinced of his betrayal to hear
the language of his silent offerings,

which, once the persistent sun finally clears the mist from my vision,
is not so different from a language my parents speak,
one I was also deaf to for years.

7   two truths and a lie
Circumstances have made us strangers to each other
I said to him, walking away

                    We’ve inherited                 a
                                                                        muddled and layered

                                hierarchy and we’re

    to grow out of it
I said to him, squirming under its weight

I’m not quite sure     what to say
I said to him, unravelling before his eyes

8   cherry-picked by the embodied subconscious
even this relatively disembodied existence,
faced with the prospect of


of being, for
                        so long,                                        so far away,

will conjure some

                a                    lonely


as a desperate but necessary distraction.
if it cannot be still in your company for even a moment
it is to prevent some other sensation from proving to you
that it was only ever a mirage.

9   now
    now that there is no more stable ground to map
    I find myself
                                                longing for

            the snow that fell yesterday

    when it happened was I


    and all, or
    am I always
    to a degree

                paralyzed, fighting myself

    over some calculated fantasy?
    even now?

10   postscript
                                                                                    “Let’s just
stand in each other’s company for as long as we can bear
to witness the wonder of each shifting moment we share,”

    I wrote (to you) to myself,
    knowing I knew not what I had known.
    The words were



                                                                       transient and
    I waited with this open envelope
    to see if they would make it their nest,
    flutter home together each night to rest.

11   cocoon
            stories have taken root in my heart

                                                speaking the truths I needed to hear

frame your vision




    these fragile assurances I found
    in the shadow of my doubt
    make for poor spinning material
    but if I hide them among
    the strands of translucent hair
    tucked behind my ears
    I may grow into them someday.
© 2024 Kathryn Li All Rights Reserved