Ocean Vuong shared on his Instagram story one poem that changed his life:
The Fall by Russell Edson
There was a man who found two leaves and came indoors holding them out saying to his parents that he was a tree.
To which they said then go into the yard and do not grow in the living room as your roots may ruin the carpet.
He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.
But his parents said look it is fall.
It reminded me of my college admission essay which began with “My mom is trying to create a clone of her idealistic self.” My mother was always telling me to drink more milk so that I would grow taller and have stronger bones, a nagging advice that continued throughout high school. Then I elaborate on my disbelief of Catholicism and consequential performative confirmation to appease my unknowing parents. The first time I went to confession was to tell the priest that I was not Catholic. No one really knows how to react to the quiet kid who eventually speaks up to hyperventilate that they reject everything, how to respond to someone who is so vehemently and clearly saying no.
In my essay I see this experience as a rotting piece of my heart decomposing and become fertilizer for the self.
Drinking “Christ’s blood” didn’t teach me anything, but not drinking it did.
I never did drink the milk my mother poured.
I originally wrote the essay for a memoir prompt in an English class taught by Ryan Stripling, a very kind dude who sponsored the literary magazine crew and was one of those life-changing English teachers. He would write a letter to every one of his students at the end of year about how their presence contributed to the classroom, or how they grew, and encouraging how they can grow. He believed that “words create worlds.” I had intended to write a thank you letter after graduating college as I never did in high school. At the end of last year, I went to see what he was up to as I last heard he was writing a book. I found out he just died of cancer in a span of half a year. That was the first time that someone in my life died. I still am hesitant on rushing, but perhaps it is naïve to continue assuming that I have plenty of time. No one knows that.
Paul Tran is another contemporary Vietnamese American poet. A snippet from one of their interviews:
- I believe the poet should investigate. Investigation is important to me because our world, as every world before ours, needs thinkers to illuminate the human condition: why are we here and what does it mean for us to be here? What is our purpose and how do we forge, challenge, or resist it? What animates and gives dimension to our desires, dreams, and determination to exact what we think we want by any means necessary? To what lengths would we go to be happy, safe, or satisfied with the shape of our lives and at what costs? Poetry helps us answer these questions. That means, for me, at the heart of every poem is a writer trying to reach for and grapple with a possible or temporary or difficult answer to these questions. Poetry, from this view, is not a “reliving” or “retelling” of events. It is not transcription, as Carl Phillips reminds us. It is transformation.
For some reason in October 2018, I wrote “Everyone’s got their own voice. I’m not European.” on the back of a handout that was also covered with sketches for typeface idea. I still do not know what I was responding to. I guess all of it really.