July 15–21, 2019
t. tran le is a poet from Texas. Their work has been featured in the Breakwater Review, 8 Poems and Kweli. They run events at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan, and live in Brooklyn with their partner and three cats. This past spring, they received a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship for study in Candace Williams’s Poet Against Empire workshop.
who told the child that one can grow old without a god
the portrait of my nighttime is hung by a carnivorous moon consider this rosary pink & plastic bead(s) slide along a once white now browned cord is it grotesque to find comfort in knowing there are traces of my childhands in the fibers the crucifix is dented from nails & teeth pressed & misshapen by daydreaming today I am decades & miles away from traveling this length by prayer everyday at 4PM our small bodies piled onto Bà Nội’s bed I remember the urgency of this Vietnamese my first songs echo from something distant When I was young I watched my mother skin fruit with such exactness I was reminded she could kill me in my sleep clinical precise no trace of me left behind I saw it happen in the unending darkness of every night hairs in my ears like insect legs sticking to every moving decibel my inkwell eyes unblinking breath a vapor above the slit of my mouth I counted the clicks of each door in the house It is not an impossible terror: my mother the assassin twirling apples like globes in her left palm shedding entire orbs I’ve memorized the way her forearm moves (& how) the muscles lie the shapes they take in a limb the whole of my life marked by my mother’s moving body It’s true I have been thinking a lot about the divine I can see both my grandmothers in figures of alphabets I hear their lips smack delivering tones chants arias sweeping over my face & I see my mother shaving a fleshy thing in one continuous rotation
—Originally published in the Breakwater Review, Issue 24, March 2019.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem in an NYC workshop with Winter Tangerine, after an extraordinarily difficult summer, and with the brilliant guidance of my workshop cohort it quickly found its way into a contrapuntal. This poem is definitely unique in my portfolio in that I really haven’t revised it very often—I think it’s gone through two revisions. I’m a poet who revises poems to death—this poem was a brand new ride.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a collection that parallels death, dying and life in the ocean with the vast, extreme terrain of unresolved trauma. To counteract that dreary mess, I am writing love poems to my lover and each of my three cats.
What’s a good day for you?
Either a quiet day at home with the kitties (Piaf, Freddie Mercury and Birdie), a hot day at the beach, or dim sum followed by a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for a beer by the river.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
A quick summary: I made a choice to take my writing more seriously. For me, that meant moving to Brooklyn.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I’ve lived in the same place for three and a half years, in Bushwick almost at the border of Ridgewood, Queens. The vibrations feel like they are changing every day but the cacophony of joy and kindness on this corner remains the same.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
Visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on a windy day during peak cherry blossom season is amazing—I love how it feels like I’m standing in the middle of a gorgeous anime.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
Brooklyn Poets has a lot to do with how quickly I found community here. I’ve also worked at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop for three years, running events and workshops. I’m extremely privileged in my access to community spaces and discourse. Because of Brooklyn Poets and AAWW, I can’t imagine a writing life without community.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
The most profound poets in my orbit are my peers and friends in poetry. Nothing inspires me more than a group of people nerding out and poets will NERD OUT over anything! My poet friends are brilliant, brilliant beings and I am so lucky they let me hang around.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Meagan Washington whom I’ve been writing with for almost a decade, from our undergrad workshops in Houston to New York City. Marwa Helal has changed and continues to change my life (order Invasive species here). I’m so grateful to have taken classes with Marwa—a long writing drought ended when I took Marwa’s class, Vernacular as Resistance, and I’ve continued to study under Marwa whenever possible (and really, you should too).
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
“Carry the Beacon” from Mai Der Vang’s Afterland has been rattling around my head these days. I wish I could sufficiently articulate where I find power in this poem, but it’s much better if I leave you with the line: “ants are spies for the dead”—one of those lines whose logic spans a universe, causes shifts in a heart rate.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I really try not to think about this question! In general, I’m really trying to reject notions of production, and reading lists can often feel like such an anxiety-ridden burden and for no good reason except weird dynamics in elitist spheres.
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?
I read randomly and often have my fingers in many different titles. When I do take notes, I like to use pencil. I usually read physical books—pages are a great fidget toy.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
Most of my ambitions are in form—I’ve been outlining projects for book art and video poetry, but I’d love to tackle as many poetic forms as possible in this life.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
Again, by the water! I love reading at the beach or by a river.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
To spare you another love letter to Brooklyn’s waterfronts, I’ll say that Prospect Park is another favorite Brooklyn space. There is always a spot in the park that seems like the quietest place in the universe.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate my mortal mass,
And what I carry you expel like a comet’s golden tail,
For every fury in me is as good as in you.
Everyone is so fucking nice! I’m used to friendly under a poisonous veil: Southern hospitality. My neighbors in Brooklyn are amazingly enthusiastic about camaraderie and support—sincere compassion and kindness are happening all over Brooklyn, all the time.