For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.
Debbie Yee’s Green Tea Cupcakes with Red Bean Paste Buttercream
Paul Tran asks, I recently watched Natasha Trethewey’s “Why I Write: Poetry, History & Social Justice” on YouTube. the 52-minute lecture led me to George Orwell’s essay by the same title. Both got me thinking about the importance of “messages” in Asian American poetry. I define “message” as an argument or observation of the world that compels new understandings or visions of human existence, its operations and struggles. What kind of messages do you articulate or reimagine in your work? Why these in particular? And if none, what might their absence say? Why the choice to “not say”?
Debbie Yee answers, I hadn’t, until recently, considered my writing as having a message other than addressing my version of an existential crisis that resonates with few to twelve imagined people. But Orwell is perhaps correct in having identified political purpose as a driver. Whether intentionally or not, I’ve been re-telling “women’s work” from a 21st century feminist perspective through poems couched in observation or fantasy. They tend to concern maternal desire and absence, employing images of domesticity and home life quite a lot, usually set around the kitchen, garden, and the body. Except for a poem or two vaguely in the context of the law, my profession as a lawyer is extremely absent. I’ve often hoped I could turn on the law-poem spigot, but haven’t so far gotten any traction. That area of my life may largely be resolved and non-controversial in an internal sense, so I then roam into different terrain.
There was a drift of sugar desire in a once-small town. Sun-sweetened trees bore a load of pear-shaped children. The single-story buildings mottling the topography were gummy and edible, nestled along highways and footbridges paved in fruit leathers. The people gardened. They were simple and diabetic. They dreamt the way giants do. Their hearts wrestled with vast plots of untilled acreage. Their arms were fit to host suppers, could carry two seasons of bounty. Those who did laid the groundwork for a nest of kittens and bucks to fawn over. Those trees dipped and swayed in melodious day and continued this way well into the night, capturing in rhythm the town’s inhalations, exhalations, sighs and whistles. Underneath constellations, in a lunar rabbit year, the children snapped off from their birth branches arched over moonlit yards, slung rope and plank over their ancestors, fashioning swings for play, motion, inertia. The town was mid-breath in its history, conjectured a future by hand shadow puppetry as its talent at the county fair, its pies and cakes near-baked, its fruity, flavorful offspring at the ready.
Debbie Yee is an attorney, poet, mother, baker and crafts enthusiast living in San Francisco.