Posted Jan 6, 2016.
Kassy Lee helps twenty-somethings who struggle with finding real work to match their passion discover and create a vocation that serves their soul and sustains their financial independence. She's also a published poet and world traveler currently living in Beijing. She offers a free audio course on gaining confidence to go after your creative career.
THE SCREW, THE CLOUD
Honey is a chalk miner’s daughter.
She straps me to the cinder blocks
since I am her peach internal ear.
Since we drink root beer on Daddy’s
porch, Honey, come spring, polishes off
my temporary ghost like string
cheese. A soul peels the way that
cheese does, slow. Sand rats come and go
with the knowledge that I should also
remain anonymous. Fruit bats
swarm in the burnt out barn by our
sworn silence. Bumper cars jar me
to sleep in the Santa Ana winds.
Honey presses her bandana
against me like a road sign sandstormed
against the earth, warmed in a heat
impossible to get through unless
you know the Pacific brews blue
beyond the mountains. She scatters trash
beyond pissed-on grass we watch turn
yellow, slow, like brown kids in winter
who go to good schools in small towns
out east. It means nothing to me. Far
out in a coal tar noon, the cold sun
drudges past in its honeyed cast.
THESAURUS dot COM
Claret, maybe? A simple Kool-Aid rued hue. Inside, the body of someone
who hates me. Outside, a tree muscles out its raw fruits. The gentle arc of
the moon laps up the blood. A puddle of which is subject to the same forces
as the tidal ebb and flow. The bay window chafes my outer thigh as we make
love. The goldfish knows. He doesn’t grow jealous. I was charmed by sweet
kernels of corn between your gap-tooth, the boy with the Dead Sea cosmetics
booth, the ripples of a wound. Even if you believe that the horizon is a snake
with its tail on its own tongue, a kid on my Chrome browser will still be dead.
You’ll go on trying to overanalyze my texts. I’ll go on with my cellphone
camera, recording my nephew killing roaches with Raid in order to play it
back in reverse. Death happens only once, and then all is rewound. God can
make a rusty revolving chamber, like your heart. God can make a military
grade tank on a sunflower-hugged highway. That’s within his means. God
can make pies as wide as July, a silvered token for the misappreciation
of your body. He can do whatever he likes except prove that all of us are
made in his image. For some reason he can’t do the math on that one.
It’s just that, well, every cloud has a brutal body bag lining. When we are
abstract, we can be so beautiful. But, we are concrete. We are gray, draped
by the bodies of teenagers killed on their way to their grandma’s house.
Killed while thinking, Will there be any cute girls in technical college?
Just some city girls with their tight coils in the dead air of the dayroom.
I meet the meat slicer. I meet the deli counter.
The butcher boy has his perfect speed. He might
be the half-soup, half-sandwich combo meal deal
of my dreams. I’ve been told there’re mountains
haloing the city in the distance, but where the fuck
are they when you need them? Since I’ve moved
here all I can see is the high spire poking out from
the convention center. After all, this seizing of my
heart around its blood bags is as plain as plain yogurt.
A monogrammed dish towel in an orchard of fruit
-bearing trees, now that’d be the stuff. I start to “talk”
with God to pass the time, but after a while I spend
the nights at His place. He will at least set an alarm
for me to wake up before Him so I can get my ass
to work on time. The angle of His pulpwood scar
makes me feel like a jukebox playing, “What’s Up
Pussycat” ad nauseam in a moonlit diner. Of course,
after another while God gets bored of my fake sex
noises. He leaves the TV room shouting things like,
“My Easy Bake Oven, my silent beauty, my jealous
pizza, guacamole costs extra but only ninety-nine
cents extra. Think of all I’ve done for you!” He comes
back in after checking the crevice behind His comfy
couch for the Roku remote. I need Him more than
He needs me. I know, I know, okay. I whisper. I wave
the celadon sweet laundry softener above my head.
I read a Cosmo.com article about emotionally
unavailable deities, and I ask God if He thinks
He’s emotionally unavailable. “C’mon, girl, I’m
watching Game of Thrones,” He says. The voice
of God saying, “C’mon girl, atta girl, good girl.”
That’s what ropes me in when I think of leaving
Him and changing my Facebook profile pic for
good. I blow Him and bang my skull against His
desk in a casual rhythm. He makes a joke about
knocking the sense into me. I joke that I’d rather
have some cents instead of sense. It’s not a very
funny joke, but I’m not a very funny person
either. It’s a universal test of personal will
and devotion to be God’s small lamb and fuck-
around-girl. It leaves me wondering, Am I the
type to be told I am beautiful against the gentle
to and fro of the whipsaw? Or am I the whipsaw?
One night I was out at Houhai with a friend. It was one of those "domino effect" evenings of small events. First we see these guys flashing laser lights, but we don't buy those, we buy bubble guns instead. Which leads us to buying a deck of cards, and playing card games. And then all the old men gathered around and watched us playing cards. It just typifies China as a "one thing leads to another" situation.
I never studied China or thought I would live here before a year and a half ago. I was very ignorant of China. In my first year here, one of the first things I noticed was how excited the city was for the iPhone 6. There were images all around town and you could sense a pervasive excitement. Around that same time in America we were having a lot of problems with police brutality. I felt oddly more connected to the iPhone fervor here than the protesting fervor in my country, like there was a disconnect. That’s when I realized I really live here.
Yeah! I was going around town to different cafes reading and writing, and I kept overhearing people talking about him. I was at Tribe when heard some people say that when iPhone 5 came out, people stayed overtime in their offices just to keep playing with it. I didn't really think about Steve jobs when I was in America, but I can’t help but think about him here.
Before I came to China, US imperialism was a big focus of my writing. But in China it’s really different than in Africa or Latin America, US culture has a history of crumbling other cultures. In China it’s not as one-directional. There is more of an interplay.
I was 7 years old. A woman who was a poetry workshop freelancer came to our school, held a few workshops. She got us tickets to a Maya Angelou reading. Maya Angelou was kidnapped and abused as a child for a few weeks. Her Mom heard from people talking in the streets where her daughter was, and she went and bust down the door. The abuser ran away and Maya was rescued. A few weeks later, they found the abuser, dead. Maya felt like she had killed him with her words -- by divulging what he did to other people. That's when she realized the power of her words -- that they can devastate or heal people.
Listening to Maya Angelou tell this story, I also realized it.
I was in a kid's writing group called “Border Voices,” because grew up on US-Mexico border. My mom was a psychiatrist so I’d write a lot about drug abuse. Even though it wasn’t a problem in my family, my mom would drive me to school and I'd listen to her talking on the phone. So I picked up a lot of the talk early on.
I went to Columbia, and lived in a poetry house live with other poets and writers, which was super cool but got pretentious sometimes. It was like, "Hey I don't feel like talking about TS Elliot again, can we just have a beer and chill?" But I got to meet lots of awesome poets.
After I graduated I published Zombia, a chapbook, about zombie history. Zombies come from slavery times in Haiti. This idea that if you’re a slave and kill yourself, you become a person in between life and death. In the US, suicide is seen as a white person's thing, like people of color are supposed to suck it up and go to church or whatever. Which was a big struggle for me when facing hard times.
After college I went to Guatemala, so got Spanish influence in my work. Now I’m in China, working on a chapbook that’s kind of sci-fi. There's a lot of internal conflict in the US, so I'm writing it as if we're 70 years in the future looking back on the US as it sank into Civil War. As if the US became one of those "old countries" like Prussia -- a place you've heard about but know nothing about since its collapse.
Lattice. Words with “Bone.” And “oo” sounds like “swoon.”
“There.” Because when I’m writing it’s the only time in my life I feel completely present. And it’s cool when you get in that state, then come out of it, and realize, “Wow, I wasn’t thinking about anything else!”
Poetry says everything about life. If you look at every culture, you’ll see that every culture has an oral or written poetry tradition. Most people when they’re kids are writing poetry but don't realize it. That's how the soul expresses itself.
Why undervalued? Because there’s a disconnect between how people learn about poetry and how they enjoy it. In the States we learn about old poems, and all their references, you feel stupid not getting those references. Nowadays when I show a poem to a friend outside the poetry world, they usually say “I don't understand it”, and I’m like “You don't need to understand it! We love songs, the lyrics of the song, but no one feels pressured to unlock some hidden mystery." I think universities want professors who understand poetry deeply, but poetry isn’t just meant to be understood like that.
You could say right now, that popular poetry is in song lyrics. That's the poetry of our age. Most conventional poets need to live in universities and become professors to survive, so they get more academic. But the internet is helping by taking away the gate-keepers. Making poetry cool.
Big time. I wrote one poem in the chapbook called “George bush paints puppies.” He made news again 3-4 years ago because he was painting but would only paint puppies. There’s one of him in the bathtub that just shows his feet.
He was president from 10-18 for me. I grew up in San Diego, which is 1/3 White, 1/3 Hispanic, and 1/3 Asian, with some Black and Native American too. The playground would have lots of langauges. And the Bush years were very tough on immagrants. Lots of racism, and 9-11 added to that, calling immigrants terrorists. Now I realize that this is just what America is, it’s not just because of Bush.
It’s weird as an American feeling disappointed and helpless b/c you see your government doing terrible things, and you can only vote for one side of the same coin.
There's an element of agency. Agency meaning someone having the ability to make choices in their life. Like in the US, you can’t choose to vote for someone who isn’t perpetuating our empire. And I feel I don’t have political agency in that way. In many ways we are always operating in a realm of choiceless-ness, and it’s funny how similar people are in how they deal with it. You have an existential process of the meaningless-ness of life, and at the same time you’re dieting on kale and Facebook-ing your ex boyfriend, and your day-to-day just looks like anyone else’s. Watching Youtube videos about pandas going down slides.
The consciousness levels of life are like, you can be trying to figure out meaning in your life, and meanwhile thinking “I got to lose weight’ or “I want to check out this guy’s OKCupid profile but he can see I’ve done it but I can’t help myself!”
That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As a student, your voice molds to a university setting. Or mimics other poets. Now it seems like popular good poets just write about nature and flowers and horses. I don’t know the names of any birds, so I couldn’t do that. I wouldn't want to. Recently I heard a birdsong and I thought it was an alarm, so I was like, “Fuck that person’s alarm,” but then I realized it was a real bird. So my reality is that if I go into nature, I’m like, “Oh my God this looks like the Indiana Jones ride at the amusement park in San Diego.” My reality is more synthetic.
I want to elevate that reality. Like going into the grocery store and there's a million toothpastes and you have an existential crisis about it. It’s easier with scenic themes to play with language because language is made for those scenes. It’s harder to play with contemporary items,
Also, I’m a Black poet, but I don’t speak with the so-called Black vernacular. Neither do people in my Black community. So I’m conscious of what it means to be a Black writer versus White writer, and an American abroad -- it’s all unclear but I just try to be authentic to the way I listen and hear and see the world.
Yeah, right? I talk to God a lot in my poetry. But in real life I feel more like we're in the movie Interstellar, where you have a timeless self in a container who is always looking out for you. Sometimes I feel like I’m communicating with my timeless self.
This is an interesting part of being alive now. We’re not bound by the ethical code of any religion -- we’re free. But we’re also lonely. Like, God in my poems is this being who can listen to me in my darkest states and is trying to do the best for me but I keep messing up. And God is like, “Come on, man, what are you doing now?”
If you’re a contemporary city-dwelling person and well-educated and family is not religious, you might feel like, “What even is this God thing?” We can’t picture how he fits into our contemporary lives. What is he? Steve Jobs?
I love the internet. It’s who I ask for advice. I Google specific things, like, “How to get my socks to stop falling down in my boots.” I think this goes back to what our reality is now, which is life through a screen. It’s how we relay emotions now. Sending out GIFs of partying to show we’re excited for a party.In short, multimedia helps me express everything I need to express.
I feel some of my deepest convos have been over G-Chat – how do I capture that? On a daily basis, friends will send videos to each other, same as talking. We share emotions through Youtube videos: "Haha this is so funny, watch this video."
Me and my friends are continual sharers, and it’s like a continual archive of what you have with them. It's kind of beautiful.
This is the best advice but it always sounds stupid. “Just write, and keep writing.” Stop reading advice about how to write and start writing. You’ll come up with a million and ten reasons not to write, and looking for advice on how to write is one of those.