Poet Of The Week

Cindy Tran

     May 29–June 4, 2017

Cindy Tran holds a degree in English literature from UCLA. In 2015, she received a Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship from the Loft Literary Center and this past spring she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Joshua Mehigan’s Sonnet workshop. In her free time, Cindy writes Yelp reviews, hoping that someone will search for a tasty pork sandwich in Manhattan and find her poem about sandwiches and racism.

Author photo by Ruben Tomas

How to Have a Miscarriage All Over the City

When platitudes like time heals all and everything happens
for a reason
knock at your door, ignore.
                                                                         Ignore again.

Buy expensive bath tissue. Later, when you turn around
and see blood clots floating in the toilet bowl,
yank a long train of that expensive bath tissue
and wipe. Focus on the soft cotton fibers of three-ply
that you never bought for yourself before.

Everything happens for a reason.

Locate two old bath towels. Layer them
in the middle of your bed. Wear a beat-up t-shirt
and nothing else at night. When you give up
counting sheep,
                            count your own fingers and toes.

Line your underwear with a thick pad,
place a lemon in your coat pocket and leave
the house in broad daylight. Suck in icy air.
Obey stop signs. Look both ways, twice.
Aim to walk aimlessly for half an hour each day.
Stop at a café and sit by a dusk-blue wall.
Order nothing. Gaze at your faux-fur boots
and ask the barista if you can borrow a blue pen.
If there is no blue, borrow black.
Treat napkins as a notepad and a manual.
Outline a system of tender rewards. See one friend
and you get to have sushi. See three friends
at the same time and you get to have a Sidecar.

Kill two birds with one stone:
                                                   Ask friends to stop
sending cheap platitudes, and ask them
to buy you expensive bath tissue,
Egyptian cotton bath towels, and organic linen sheets
the color of alabaster stone.

Pay bus fare and sit in the second row—it is okay
to look at the stroller,
                                     but do not look inside.
When you cannot breathe,
slip the lemon out of your pocket
and place it just under your nose.
Take in the aroma. Return lemon to pocket.
Lift your fingers to your ears.
When earbuds feel secure in their place,
              let out a sigh.
When you return home, turn on the hallway light.
Turn on the living room light.
Turn on the kitchen light.
Turn on the bedroom light.
Turn on the bathroom light.
Stand in the middle of your home.
Sob into the new bath towels.
Sob until you kneel and your palms meet the hard floor.
              Take in the silence.
Slip into the silence and pass into sleep.

Dream of running down First Avenue,
along the river and bridges and dams,
past the landslide debris on the west bank
from last spring’s month-long storm,
and past the long-gone record store
now replaced by a boulangerie
that smells like flour and browned butter at 6 AM
and pears simmering in lemon water at 9 AM,
and run into the ice cream store, where you order
hope and you get two scoops of vanilla
drizzled with thin slivers of dark chocolate,
and you snort at the difference
between what you ask for and what you receive
in a city where hope never dies an easy death.

Check the weather report for today.
Bundle of sorrow, bundle up, and go into the wild.
Cast line and bait into a thawing lake.
Crane your head back and look at the old sky.
—published in Copper Nickel, winner of the Editors’ Prize in Poetry for issue 26

Tell us about the making of this poem.

After some time in grad school (for mental health counseling), I became very unhappy with the program. Around the same time, I found out that a couple of friends had miscarriages. Nobody had anything to say about it, except that it was sad. And there’s a usefulness in that pure silence, and in silent grieving. Yet, I wanted to offer another option; one kind of silence can transform into an entirely different kind. Sometimes, a protective silence becomes a ruthless and painful thing. Looking more inwardly, writing that poem was my strong reaction to poor counseling, hypocrisies in the grad program, and my heavy dislike of clichés in general.

What are you working on right now?

Some friends and I are looking for a space in Brooklyn to start a poetry reading series.

What’s a good day for you?

The sort of day where I make a pot of coffee, it tastes really sour or bitter, I carefully pour it down the drain, say goodbye to the coffee and go out for a walk.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

A Craigslist ad.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

I read the above poem at the Brooklyn Poets Workshop Showcase this past January. During the break, a nurse or a doula introduced herself and said she had a client who was having a hard time processing her miscarriage. She asked if she could share the poem with this client. That moment made me want to write more poetry that helps people tend to their own—and others’—grief.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

To me, a poetry community is more than being in a group of poets. I imagine it like a nest of songbirds in a tree. And that tree has other nests. And that tree of nests is in a forest of many nest-friendly trees. I have found that community and I feel lucky for that every day.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Paul Tran is an immensely gifted poet and they are like a sibling to me. They recently published “Refugee Abecedarian,” which has inspired me to think about and experiment with a form’s message. Emily Wilkinson, Isabel Gardocki and Laura Eve Linthicum are friends I made in a Brooklyn Poets workshop and they regularly challenge me to try new things and see my work in different ways.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I devoured Sonya Chung’s The Loved Ones and Long for This World. Not only does Chung unbox some heavy situational and emotional taboos, but she also narrates with a certain compassion. And to top it off, so much in both novels sounds like poetry to me.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

It hasn’t been years, but: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer and The Refugees. I pre-ordered both books and they have been sitting on my shelf for some time now, staring back at me. I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting on my sense of culture and family history, to the point of exhaustion. I look at this avoidance as a kind of needed rest.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

All of those.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’d like to write a poem that is meant to be spoken and performed with stringed music.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

When I go running, I have fun thoughts. Sometimes, a run ends up looking like a sprint, an abrupt stop, tapping a phrase, idea or sentence into my phone, sprint, abrupt stop, write, and so on. I’ve tried maintaining a jogging pace while writing in my phone, but it ends up looking like a toddler’s doodles. And sometimes I trip over a rock or slip on ice!

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I like seeing Brooklyn from a plane when I’m coming back from somewhere else. I can’t say I know why.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the overcast sky,
And what I see in you and may thank,
For every cast in me as good brings warmth to you.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

I dropped out of high school and used to eat sardines like Biggie,
moved my rosy ass from LA to NYC, a reverse Dodger—
but with more paper to throw at reading series. Hey Jack,
I’m flyin and I can’t get down, I mother and father
my poetry, give it a life neither dust nor wind can rob.
See, I don’t make tired rhymes about love
unless it’s about lovin my slant-rhyming pussy with a pen,
eraser not necessary. That’s how I get down in Brooklyn.
I used to be a lil cin, but now I’m a Big Cin.

Why Brooklyn?

If Brooklyn could speak, I think it would give a gentle laugh and say, We are just getting to know each other, and there is so much to learn.