Tuesday, November 29, 2011


When I was fourteen I ran away from home,
because my mom and I had an argument in the living room,
in front of the rest of my family.
When I ran out the front door and slammed it behind me,
Hurrying from the porch I used to sweep in first grade,
Running down the driveway where I learned to ride a bike,
Traipsing on the street I wandered day and night,
Taking distorted pictures of street lamps on school nights,

I turned the corners I sometimes rode my bike around on the way to the library,
Stopping to stand in the grass on the corner, next to the stop sign,
Crying, shouting, barefoot and mad,
Dragging my heels through the leaves and grass,
My fingers grazing the ivy of the wall.

I turned the corner again onto the highway,
and coming down the road on the sidewalk,
a police car pulled over, red lights blaring,
and I pretended not to notice,
but the policeman talked to me,
asked me where I was going and where I lived,
and I answered, terrified, until he stopped.

I continued on the sidewalk, cut grass, deciduous trees, 
bougainvillea running along the high wall
of the oldest country club in the Coachella Valley.

When it happens I am surrounded by trees, and the ground is dark.
I see the sidewalk in my memory, pockmarked and pale,
and lying there is the four of diamonds,
one scale from some lost deck of cards.

I look down at the card,
its sharp parallelograms and mirrored 4s dark in the night,
and having recently come home from China,
remember that the number means death there.

It's silly, but at fourteen, that was why I turned around.
At home, Dad had said, "Should we go after her?"
And my only little brother, a lump in his throat, wailed,
"Well, do you want her?"
By the time I turned around,
they were cruising slowly through our neighborhood,
our huge white Suburban moving like a mythical whale in the dark.

After some college boys harassed me about the police harassing me,
After I was walking back, playing card in hand,
My dad rolled the window down and said something funny,
something about coming home.

Six years later, I went for a walk here in London,
maybe just to feel the comfort of being warm when it's cold,
of wearing a coat and breathing out clouds.

I intended to walk down just one street, and at the end of it, to turn around.
I intended to stop when the line of trees stopped, and then to follow them home again.
But I continued into Kensington, and past Hyde Park, and through Hyde Park, and on,

And you're not going to believe me,
But after I passed a bus stop I looked down at the pavement,
Lit by yellow street lamps and crowded by trees and high buildings,
and I saw one card, an eight of clubs, lying alone on the sidewalk,
and again, I don't care what that card means to technical numerology or to the occult, 
but eight is my favorite number, 
and 8 is an infinity symbol turned on its side,
and eight is the number of steps to Nirvana,
and eight is a perfect cube,
and eight is a perfect octave.

I didn't stop and gape at the card on the ground; I picked it up and kept walking,
Carrying the omen with me,
Realizing that my life was, and had been, metaphors and foreshadowing,
building off of each other,

And that I need to start believing the whispers I hear in my mind,
things like "This will be finite, so end it,"
and "you'll be friends with this person,"
and the worst, after days of a strange fever:
"if you get close to him,
he has the power to remove you from what you love."

And because this needs a denouement, my dad is coming to England,
to carry me home, on a silver plane, like a bright fish in the sky,
And home isn't an escape, but a destination.
Home is a refuge and a celebration,
home is a place to hug three sisters and two brothers,
parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.
Home is a place to make fresh orange juice on Christmas,
a place to play ping-pong with my sister
in the backyard in rolled jeans and sunglasses.

Home isn't a living room or a dark street.
Home isn't someone's sternum and clavicle,
or the touch of his hair on my forehead.

Home is my mom trying to say "I love you," more,
Home is my dad driving me back from the airport in our white suburban,
through the thousand windmills at the base of the San Jacinto mountains.

Home is arriving to the fourteen arms
of the seven people who love me most,
and it is knowing that my brother will always want me back
to be the fifteenth and the sixteenth, 
and the eighth.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How My Life Works:

If it makes me feel like I'm going to throw up, I don't do it.
If I start crying, I keep walking.
If I don't understand something, I go through it again.
If I'm not making sense, I stop talking.
If I walk for too long, I start limping.
If my family can't talk, I'll leave the house for anything.
If I'm waiting for a letter, I send another letter.
If I can't finish one poem, I work on a different poem.
If my fingernails are short, I cut them shorter and they bleed.
If that foot does the thing it's doing and I am therefore limping, I keep walking.
If I cut my hair, I want to cut my hair more.
If I feel sad, I try to sleep.
If I wake up afraid, I lie on my back and breathe.
If I can't breathe, I go outside where the air is thinner.
If I trip over Spanish words, I pay attention to what I'm saying.
If I'm smiling, I try not to remember why I shouldn't be.
If someone makes me a cup of tea, I drink it.
If I hold still, I can like people.
If people are too friendly, I remember that they want to be loved.
If I read a poem out loud, I try not to cry.
If other people are crying, I do not cry.
If there is singing in the hall, I sit on the landing and harmonize.
If the first snow happens, I cloud up the glass on the bus.
If I am in the city, I am like a city, humming, glittering, alive.
If I am leaving the city, I am not you.
If I am not you, then I know who I am.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Another old poem.

Si una vez no es suficiente, yo te diré otra vez
Porque lo que diré es la verdad
Y la verdad tiene que estar dicho todo el tiempo
Te diré una y otra y otra vez:
Que no tengo el tiempo para esperar, esperando
Esperando para ti y tus conclusiones
Y cuando yo saldré de tus pensamientos
Mis palabras se repiten, repiten, repiten
Como un eco en tu cabeza, detras de las cavas de tus ojos.


If once isn't sufficient, I'll tell you another time
Because what I will tell you is the truth
And the truth has to be spoken all the time
I will tell you once and another and another time:
That I don't have the time to wait, waiting
Waiting for you and your conclusions
And when I leave your thoughts
My words will repeat, repeat, repeat
Like an echo in your head, behind the caves of your eyes.

Old Poem

I found a poem today that I wrote at the end of August last year. I think it's poignant given what's happened since.

8/26/10 2:56 AM

It’s times like these when I wish I had a friend in a foreign country
A friend I could call when he was eating breakfast,
When I can’t sleep and it’s nearing three in the morning.
Over his toast and milk he would tell me not to worry,
That everything was fine on his side of the ocean and mine
That no one was going to break into my house,
That no one was going to break into my heart.
It’s times like these I wish I had a friend who would be awake,
When the world around me is sleeping.
Who would be thinking and moving
When my neighbors are snoring and clutching their pillows
When I am sighing and feeling so alone
So completely alone
It’s times like these-- these middle-of-the-nights--
When it is easy to feel friendless.
When it is easy to recognize that no one,
Not your best friend,
Not your lover,
Not your relatives in town,
Would answer their phone to you at such an ungodly hour.
And that you couldn’t dispute that they hadn’t picked up at 2:56 in the morning.
No one in this town loves you enough to wake up.
No one in this town would talk to you so late over toast.


  1. Bump n' Grind hike with Mom.
  2. Living room fort with Maren.
  3. Homemade orange juice.
  4. Boat parade in Newport Beach.
  5. Volunteer at CVRM.
  6. Take Dad to Borough Market.
  7. Give twenty things to charity.  (25 down)
  8. Visit Frank Sinatra's grave. (Seriously? I don't think I'm ever going to do this.)(UPDATE: DONE)
  9. Hug my grandparents.
  10. Give good gifts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Jonathan is four years old 
and his sister Colette whispers in my ear,
"I think he loves you as much as our mom."
He wants me to carry him on my shoulders.
He wants me to read him a story and run with him around the house.
He wants to pile pillows on top of me
and listen to their uncle play the guitar for all of us.

When their grandparents wanted to take them to the grocery store,
Colette invited me along and I agreed and ran downstairs to get my coat,
long and tan with buttons. I pulled it over my arms and shoulders
and walked into the front hall, where Jonathan was waiting for me.

"Where is the girl with the long hair?" he said.
"That's me." I replied. "I'm Emily. I just put my coat on."
"You put your coat on?"
"But why is that you?"

You throw on a coat and become a different person.

I thought I knew you so well, understood you so fully.
I thought I'd found a feel for your potential,
that I could predict what you would do in certain situations.

But this situation I saw long before it ever happened,
before you even knew it was going to happen,
and I was all wrong, and I put it away,
completely unprepared when it was realized.

Instead of being ready, I ran, hyperventilating, up the stairs, crying,
Screaming, gasping, like there had been a death, a rape,
I terrified my mother and my friends, I wandered around the city,
stopping and sitting down, 
numbed on each park bench.

I slept for days straight, and when I woke up,
I looked frantically for things that wouldn't remind me I was human.
My life was avoidance and distraction,
calling my mother,
waiting until it was dark enough to sleep again,
wanting to be alone but wanting people
to talk about anything besides the present or home.

Identity is often defined by action,

And in my reaction I changed completely,
realizing who I was and where I was headed,
and that where I was headed might not be where I actually wanted to end up.

Maybe in your action you transformed into other something
Than the person I knew,
The person whose actions I maybe could have predicted,
And by the slight alteration of one dimension, became a different

Throw on a coat and you look like a different person,
Throw down an action and you are a different person, 
A person I don't know and maybe a person I don't hope to know,
And a person I'm afraid to see and a person I might not come home for fear of seeing,
And a person who acted on my reactions, and a person who acted sometimes
like the person I wanted to be in love with.

And the person who I fell in love with,
who you have sometimes been.

Sometimes I talk as if I do not know you,
as if I don't know a thing about your past
and as if I don't remember the version of you I knew so well, so recently.
I talk as if you were the same person as any other person who leaves me behind,
someone I could toss insults at,
someone I'd have the gall to hate.

Part of you is still me,
And part of me sometimes wants to ask,
should you ever reappear in some hall,
"But why is that you?"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Maren, Holding On

I watched my sister take one step over Skype the other day.

I've been talking to my mother obsessively,
and she sits in front of the screen,
glowing in the bright Californian sun and holding the baby.
I'm somewhere in London, where it's dark at four and cloudy all day,
And I'm in my pajamas until something pulls me out of the house.
So I call her and sit alone in the hall, wearing boxers and a T-shirt,
and she asks me whether I've eaten yet that day.

My sister is ten months old, a smiling miracle.

No, really.

She sits in my mom's lap, mostly wriggling around,
and if I say her name in a high pitch and smile,
She remembers me, (maybe only as the girl in the computer)
And she hits the keys with that one arm she's always waving around,
And she smiles as big as I'm smiling,
Our Scandinavian eyes winking with joy.

She can't smile big enough, so she opens her mouth and laughs.

My mom sometimes walks around the room as she talks to me.
She's warming oatmeal and mixing in applesauce,
coaxing my sister into every biteful of solid food.
She was sitting in a chair a few meters away when my sister took a step.
I think my dad was talking with me at the time,
and he cranked the camera toward my sister.

"She took a step!" said my mom, and I looked at her again.
She was holding my sister under her tiny arms,
where she had just fallen into my mothers' hands and knees.

Maren is afraid of falling.

When my mom walks her around,
(her fists wrapped around my mother's index fingers)
she's started carrying herself on her own,
but when my mom lets go of her, she stops, afraid of falling.

She doesn't know she can do it alone.
She doesn't realize that walking is an act of continuous falling,
That each step is a forward fall being caught by the next foot, and the next,
alternating fall after fall, catch after catch.

What she doesn't realize is that life is a great fall,
a great fall, and a catch,
And every moment after she learns to walk will be about falling and hitting the ground,
hopefully always on her feet.

And this poem wasn't actually going to be about me specifically,
but I fell on my face the other day,
After this boy I was in love with proved he wasn't what I thought he was,
and broke me,

Me who was finally, really in love, for the first time,
Finally there, my face pressed to the concrete, dry heaving on the ground,
Finally realizing why it is that some people are so wary of falling in love,
because falling in love,
most certainly,

And having hit, 
like Maren topples on the kitchen tile sometimes,
I'm terrified and shocked.
I don't want to get up again.

Wouldn't I rather reach, wailing and tearful,
For my mother's arms, safe from everything and anyone?
Wouldn't I rather stay here in bed, down, asleep,
Rocked slowly by the temporal turning of the world?

But what Maren doesn't realize is that life is a fall and a catch,
and what I hadn't realized is that much of what I catch, I eventually get over.

And what my mother knew is that the trick is to let us fall first,
until we learn to stop before head-over-heels hitting ground,
until we learn to catch ourselves with our feet.