The Shoulders of Giants

TV on Street

“I want to thank the Academy…”

They all share the Oscar with their families, with their colleagues, with the nameless downtrodden of the world. “This is for you.” The golden trophy will sit on their shelf at home, but somehow, in spirit, it belongs also to the ten or ten thousand others he named on that stage.

Other than my middle school math contest fluke and participating in piano recitals, I think its safe to say my trophy days are over. If I ever have such a platform, or an acknowledgements page in a book, you can look for yourself there. I have already imagined that I will put your name in bold script with a paraphrase of Newton’s quote.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

In a world that loves the polished front and saving face, you protect my frailty. My friend’s father says, “If you’re dumb, you gotta be tough.” Unfortunately, I’m often the former, and not the latter, but you always have my back—scraped knees, splinters and broken hearts. You beat up my old dinosaur book when it started screeching in the dark. You brought me McDonalds after I braved the hospital shots. You held me when I cried in a hotel room because I thought my world was ending. You answered the phone when I killed the car battery at 10 PM. I’m working on being tough, but in the meantime at least I can say, “When I’m dumb, my Dad is tough.” Thank God.

In a world that hangs love on terms and conditions, you are steadfast. I have seen children who are a prize, measured by the sum of their awards, the rank of their schools, the letters that trail behind their names. But I am just your little girl, the daughter you said you wanted, in a culture that clamors for sons. I know the rest is nothing to you—some fun but dispensable bragging points at noisy Asian parties—because I don’t think any of your friends would do this: offer to let their kid drop a job and move home because their heart was hurting, in a completely non-medical-emergency way.

In a world of proper-looking photos, we are gangsters, pirates, and kangaroos. Venice canals, Roman architecture, and New Zealand beaches are neither sacred nor safe under the glare of our camera lens. There must be something deep about this—like how we laugh in the face of human constructs of significance. You have my humor (or I have yours), and its runs its thread through our picture albums, in the movie theaters, and at stiff boring parties. It flickers in the pirate pose, in the joke no one else finds funny, in the glimmer of mirth we share amid an oblivious crowd. Our laughter understands in a way words cannot capture.

You are in a story I wrote this year, and my professor cried. You are in the pictures I share, and my friends laugh. You are among the people I boast about, and boys say they want to be like you. (Because, I think, of your mastery of travel points and credit cards). It’d be nice to find one who really is.

Love is a debt I cannot pay, a gift I cannot touch. It is in the life you give me, the life you live alongside me. It is in the labor I do not see always see, it is in the words I cannot always find.

Mei you ni, mei you wo.

This is my Oscar speech, overtime and under-read, but its really only written for you, anyway. Cue the commercial break.

Trinity

I’m tired
of bleeding verses for the ones I lose
and I ask God
when will it stop? Because I
wish-wish-wish I could love you.
And maybe I do:
to feel the fragility and forget it
long enough to dream
of telling make-believe stories
and laughing at absurdities
and asking you to
stay.
These reveries are hollowed out
by the loss of things that never were,
anyway.

I’m afraid
of where your empty paths will lead
and I ask God
for a miracle. Because I
wish-wish-wish I could save you
from restless unbelief.
But in my helplessness, here I
find my peace:
That my God makes the blind to see
in Christ
He is more than our small fantasies
of what a god is like.
Majesty-meekness-holy-lovingkindness.
And though I
miss-miss-miss you
His ways are higher than mine.

I pray
that He meets you on a Damascus road
where the darkness dies to light
and you might know the God
who loves us more than life.

golden thread

You said You made foolish
the wisdom of the world
and I see, all around me, this mad race
to leave immortal imprints:
social good, politics and technology
to concoct hollow philosophies:
sealing God out of our closed-system
universe, like a vacuum,
trying to make sense of life without
the One who breathes spirit into dust
knit bones and flesh and soul
puts purpose in our being
what is teleology without theology?

we ask, what is God?
and the blasphemy of men shout
but at a sight of Your glory
the Psalmist asks,
what is man?
that You are mindful of him

yet You have loved the fools
redeemed the rebels
there is none who seeks You
but here is an alien grace:
You pursue, You purchase, You perfect
You wrestled with Jacob for a night
and met Moses as a friend
You loved Israel like Hosea loved a whore,
faithful to the faithless
You made the denier a martyr,
the chief of sinners, a prince of preachers

and You came after me:
it must be I can’t comprehend
the wisdom of God, that You would
make this wretch a vessel of mercy
to strip away all the empty things
so I might know Love that reached
from eternity
through the Garden, the Flood,
the Exodus, the Exile
through silence and blood, You never leave,
though all of us should have died
grace is a golden thread,
like a genealogy of outlaws crowned
in Christ

Magnolia

I loved her once, this girl who fell through Time:
She laughed at princes but blushed a ruby sky.
In dusk’s last glimmer, I saw her yearning
for a home that soothed her soul’s burning,
as she wore the panoply of stars in her eyes.

Magnolia, magnolia
the autumn winds are fair and mornings bright
Magnolia, magnolia
yours is the distant hope, mine a futile life.

I loved her once, this girl who longed to die:
Yet strange, I ne’er found such wit and fervent fire.
She spoke against monarchs and befriended slaves,
called the golden palace naught but a cage.
If only I could give her wings to fly.

Magnolia, magnolia
the branches strip bare before winter’s might
Magnolia, magnolia
yours is the truest heart, mine the cruelest fight.

I loved her once, this girl I would make a queen:
But an empire carved in bones and wrath
casts the longest shadow and loneliest path.
I loved her still, this girl who only asked for peace:
My fragile flower, my faraway dream.

Magnolia, magnolia
your once sweet fragrance has turned bitter
Magnolia, magnolia
still my heart cannot bear to see you wither.

Magnolia, magnolia
what agony, what ecstasy, brought your world to mine?
Magnolia, magnolia
Time ‘tis but a fleeting breath for two lives entwined.

 

(Not-so-loosely inspired by this series.)

The Truth About Your Fairytale

Yesterday, you told me about a boy who wears a crooked grin and plays with hearts like they’re poker cards. We sat in a rundown coffee shop, our piping hot cappuccinos blowing smoke into your tired eyes. Like Han Solo, you said, and a ghost of a smile reached your lips. I wasn’t sure if it came from a memory or the knowledge that I’d appreciate the reference.

I’m sorry, I said, before you even told me the story. Because you are like me—not a Princess Leia, who looks stunning in white and inspires men to die for good causes. No, we are Meg Ryan from Sleepless in Seattle, closet romantics until our idealism gets stomped all over. We are the ones who believe in soulmates, first love, and forever. We are from a generation raised on a diet of fairytales, and the first broken heart we meet is our own.

Yesterday, I told you about a boy whose antics could put Nora Ephron to shame. He wasted gas, sleep, and dreams on me. He made August nights perpetually sound like Ed Sheeran and my apartment smell like Calvin Klein. But it’s not like the books, I murmured. The sweetness comes with scars, and the idea of having eternity in one moment is a myth. If we could, why do we always want more? How absurdly helpless we are to squeeze the infinite into a flickering breath.

Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Yes, you whispered, adamant, but I know that’s your romanticism battling down your grief. That was always my response too—almost born more out of principle than conviction. Almost, but not quite. Because I think I would have loved him anyway, knowing it would end. I might have judged you, but for that realization, I ached with you instead. We are all fools in love, I offered, drawing upon the inimitable wisdom of Jane Austen.

Young, innocent, and a little heartbroken: it makes a cocktail of daring and desperation.

Yesterday, you told me you were waiting. Waiting for the pain to pass, waiting to be the Cinderella in your fairytale. Waiting for the one who would sweep in and make all the past a distant thing. It’s like I’m holding onto a single glass slipper, waiting for someone to knock on my door with the other one. I don’t know if he’s lost, stuck in traffic, or nonexistent. We laughed, and sometimes I think that is our greatest answer to agony.

The coffee burned in my throat going down. I don’t think he’s coming, I said.

Perhaps it is better to have loved and lost, but it is best to love and never lose. I think that’s what we’re made for, and that’s what our fairytales are grasping for. We are not created for tragic romances and hurting hearts. Romeo and Juliet sagas romanticize a broken reality, but Cinderella stories reach for Eden-like eternity. We don’t have the words that follow happily ever after because we haven’t lived that tale yet.

Someone who will cover all your scars and never leave you with another one—he isn’t coming.

He’s been knocking on your door for a long time already.

The Knot

Is this folly?

To bind ourselves, flesh to flesh,
in blood and brokenness
and whisper, in defiance,
against the dark: ‘til death.

To mock futility, souls conjoined,
despite the mortal sting
and laugh in the face of emptiness
with this communion sweet.

To die daily, for love asks more
than words—it demands our life:
every frail breath and thought,
a living sacrifice.

Or is this divine?

 

Featured in Germ Magazine November 2015.