a love letter to alaska

I know the word budget doesn’t sound sexy but it’s actually one of the most romantic things a leader does. It’s not just about allocating funds. It’s about sentiment. Whether you’re a state or a nonprofit or a household, a budget is used by those with big desires. It communicates our values, our ideals, our limits. It separates our wants from our needs.

Like you, when I read the Governor's proposed budget I don’t see numbers, I see people. He is communicating to us, Alaskans, who we want and who we need. When he has enough money to preserve and increase tax credits to the oil industry, he says to us, we need them. Okay. Sure. But when he suggests there is not enough for senior benefits and he cuts programs and raises fees, he says to our elders, we want you, but we don’t need you. When he cuts medicaid and low income dental care, he says to our poor and to our sick, we don’t need you. When he cuts the marine highway that connects our rural communities, he says to our villages, we don’t need you. When he sheds head start, bright beginnings, pre-k; slashes k-12 education, and cripples the University of Alaska by nearly cutting their budget in half, he says to our young people, our youth, we don’t need you.

But in our state, we belong to each other. Maybe it’s the poetry of our geography. Here in Juneau, for example, we are completely surrounded by ocean and ice. Seeing my friends and frenemies at the one Costco, I am often reminded that boundaries don’t just keep things out, they hold things within. Like this, we are bound to one another, we care for one another, we look out for each other.

You cannot get sick or go off a trail or fall into the water without a hundred hands reaching out to you. Not in our state. You can’t know a hunter and not be well fed. We are search and rescue, found and saved, kind of people. We are open door, come in come in people. We are build a fire, build a church, build trust kind of people.

So I know that this budget was not made by someone who is truly Alaskan at heart, or if it was, they don't feel the way we feel about Alaska. No Alaskan survives tries to survive on their own interests alone. It’s just not our way.

As our representatives revise it I know they are reckoning with a different boundary, the bounds of our economic condition. Like anything else in our state, our money and our resources are limited. Our solutions have been at an impasse for years. Perhaps we've forgotten our collective nature and our resourceful spirit. Maybe a blessing of being presented such a bad budget is that we see what needs are at stake. We are reminded of what we are not, and we do not leave each other out in the cold.

Sentiment matters. I saw a meme recently that said I wish Americans loved America the way Alaskans loved Alaska. Lol. We do love this place, and we love the whole place. And when you're as committed and connected as we are, we all share the impacts.

I ask our leaders to lead in this trusted way, to take good care of our state such that we take good care of each other. And I call on my fellow Alaskans to support them and give them courage, because a new budget will still ask us to give up what we really want, in return for what we really need. Part of the romance of Alaska is each other. Here, we pull each other out of the ice, we push each other out of the snow, we feed each other, we teach each other, we heal each other. Here we need each other.

Yee gu.aa yáxh x'wán. Have courage.


In case of loss, please return to ________

As a teaching artist, I think I work best with unlikely poets. Maybe because so often I was an unlikely poet, too. Like when my birthmother baked me a birthday cake and it wasn’t my birthday. Or when I was lonely and Asian and too drunk to be young. Or before uber and I laid expired and awake in Danny’s bed until morning or when I birthed a sun and his father flew away or anytime I blacked out because someone said they loved me. Poetry doesn’t leave you or miss your birthday or kiss the wrong people. It was always elegant, too elegant for someone like me.


This week I returned to the classroom at the local youth treatment center, which they call Lighthouse now, which feels right. It’s an honor that people invite me places, and certainly to be invited back multiple years. I don’t have an MFA or a book or even an organizational system - classy things some of my favorite poets have. Tbh I’ve only taken one formal writing class in my entire life (intro to creative writing with John colburn, my last year of college) so all of this is made up, really. But what I Can do is take good care of their stories; I know this because I had to learn to take good care of mine.


I asked if we could add hardcover moleskine notebooks for each student to the budget this year. You know, real writer shit. I handed them out myself, one at a time, like some sort of paper sword placed into the hands of rightful poets who didn’t know they were poets until they pulled their notebook out of a stone. Lol. You and I know a notebook doesn’t make a poet. But I think permission makes a poet, or at least it goes a long way, and sometimes a new notebook feels like a new day.


“Why are there DOTS on the pages?" one teen asked. She spoke from her elbow, as unlikely poets learn to do.


"Ah. Some people like lines and some people don’t like lines," I said, "so dots can give you structure if you want structure, or you can just ignore them. You’re the poet, so you get to decide what works for you. Yeah?”


She smiled. Her smile is a boat. "Okay," she replied.


"It’s good to ask questions," I said.


We turned to the first page, which asks: "In case of loss, please return to: ______________”


Our names are the first poems we write. Some poems are so unlikely, they never get to decide what works for them. But even names as worn as ours deserve belonging. I think a lighthouse is a great place for poetry because a poet knows that any beloved thing can be lost - a notebook, a day, a father a birthday a boat


And still we return, return, return to ourselves

The small world

There is a little boy next to me, he must be 2 or 3. Even when his legs are fully extended they don’t touch the seat in front of him. Mostly he just touches me, which is okay. His father looks to be in his 40s, salt and pepper hair, broad shoulders and unexciting blue jeans. He’s tall. I assume he is the kind of tall that takes care of people, like reaches for things in the overhead bin for old ladies or carries multiple children to the house at once; that gentle, spacious tall. But who knows.


“Do you want to lay down?” he keeps asking his son in English, who does not want to lay down. “Baby, do you want to take a nap?” he suggests, but the son does not want to take a nap. I like how English sounds in his mouth; it bounces, like rain in a hard city.


We take off. The son and I look out the window, watching the world get smaller and smaller.


Then the father, all 6 foot mountain of him, curls himself into a seashell and lays his upper body in his son’s lap. Without speaking, his son puts one tiny arm on his shoulder and one tiny arm around his head and his little back is strong and his little eyes are soft, and like this he holds his father. Now the son is making circles with his palm, very small ripples across the landscape of his father. Now he is slowly stroking his father’s wild sideburn with one finger. I think they must have done this before.


The father is asleep. If you held them up to your ear, I bet you could hear the ocean inside them. I bet everything in their ocean has a home to belong to. Even I belong here, simply by being here, an innocent bystander to the intimacy of strangers.


Why are some children born into sweetness and some are born into war? Line up their fathers and how could you tell their tenderness apart. I cannot fathom at this beloved moment or at any other, how a grown man could ever shoot tear gas at another man’s child. How a woman could walk their babies 3000 desperate miles to our doorstep and still some mothers would not let them in. In many ways, we have already built the wall.


Perhaps our anxious leaders have never held space like this, where no one is alone and there is always enough room. I want to bottle it up and share it. I want to swim in it and be free. I want to be immigrant and rooted, here, forty thousand feet above America. Where there is not a person, not a place, not a planet too small to love generously.

Start em young

I talked to my 9 year old about sexual assault. I just did it. I sat him down one night and we reviewed consent and we reviewed sex and we talked about how - when he’s older and ready - it’s important to ensure everyone is on board, no matter how good it feels or how much you want it because sex is an activity that should make both people happy or you shouldn’t be doing it. Non consensual sex is a form of violence that never goes away, like a bruise that stays forever. We talked about how girls have an added pressure to take care of others and not be disagreeable too, so as a boy he has the responsibility to be extra sensitive to the situation so that he can pick up on that.


It was slightly longer than our normal dialogues but mostly unmemorable, and then we read a book and I tucked him in and that was that.


The other day in the car he told me about how he “retired” from chasing the girls at recess and now he protects them - of course I then questioned why they needed protecting in the first place and what can he, with his unique gifts and privileges, do about the causes of this playground problem


and the other night while grocery shopping we discussed judge kavanaugh and the layers of disbelief in a sexist system


and this morning - Indigenous Peoples Day - on our walk to school we talked about Columbus, colonization, racism, and how to be in solidarity with indigenous people as a family of immigrants.


I bring these up to say hey, check out these incomplete and imperfect and mostly unplanned conversations that I’m so happy to have had with my child because I need his generation to be better than ours. Something I keep coming back to, whether we’re talking about an organization and what it can do, or allies and what they can do, or parents and what I believe we can do - is that social justice is not a checklist; it’s a practice. It’s not about getting it all done; it’s about just doing it.


I believe it’s true that the revolution will not be televised. I think it’ll be mostly composed of small moments, the bulk of which are common and private and unsensational. Therefore I believe the revolution can and should be explainable to children. You can do it. As parents we narrate and break down all kinds of things, from “looks like you’re tired so let’s take a nap” to “sharing is caring” to turning shoelaces into bunnies and trees. There’s developmentally appropriate ways to teach all kinds of complex concepts, and you already do this.


Also, it’s okay to use words like sexual assault, consent, racism, solidarity, etc with our kids. They know and understand all sorts of words. My son can recite entire dialogue scenes from Star Wars and he’s learned all those weird names of their planets and creatures and the entire history of their galaxy so I figure it is really not a big deal at all to learn our own. We just have to teach them.


Let’s normalize the conversation. Talk to your kids about social justice - about feminism and racial justice and gender expression and on and on and on. Imagine it’s your duty, just like teaching your kid hygiene or table manners. We brush our teeth twice a day, we don’t eat with our mouth open, and we get to decide what gender pronouns we want to be called. Whatever the topic, whatever the day. Let’s make it a practice, let’s make it popular. Start em young! I guarantee they’re ready.

Men confess things to me

men confess things to me


after eight years she wanted a divorce, what could he do

he doesn't even need these things but he has to mail them somewhere


he's so proud of his daughter

do you want to see a photo, they haven't spoke in five years


honestly he wanted what she wanted

but what if he failed


how could someone trust a person like him

someone who has been wrong


it sucks

how much he still loves her


today

i saw one of the women i've heard so much about


i envied her, the kind of special no one will gamble 

i pitied her, holding only half a story


the men of my life, do they surrender about me to someone

the someones of their life, do they open a space for them


a space wildflower enough

to say the things they could say to me

but don't 


a space sea enough

to feel the things they could feel for me

but won't


#nationalpoetrymonth day 26

Sorry

I know my birth mother is sorry

because she tells me every day


Each year she ages

and I don't learn the Korean verbs that matter

The ones that could say,

please, cancel this war

please, stand up

please, hold your fire,

hold anything


Instead, only:

yes I am eating well

are you eating well

yes, I am happy

are you happy

and bogoshipuhyo

I miss you


which is a difficult word to say in any language

except to loved ones who you know you'll see again

and to strangers who you don't want to die afraid


on my adopted mother's tongue it means you are not here

on my birth mother's tongue it means I want to see your face

on my tongue it means you have found me and will not lose me


See, I was sorry before I was ever born


Sometimes an apology will lie to survive


One day my son's grandchildren will forgive us


#nationalpoetrymonth day 25

Dear Fire

dear fire


come home, i miss you

i miss you when i am alone

your blaze a dot

the dot an island 

the island 

an overdeveloped memory


and i miss you when you are here

everything aflame

engulfed in yourself

destructive

and seductive and

close, i miss you

i miss you then the most

Dear Water

Dear Water


I'm sorry

for the things I said

last night when you held me

You were just being honest

and I was so afraid of drowning


#nationalpoetrymonth day 22

Day of the Week Poems

++++ SUNDAY ++++

would welcome a big bad wolf in 

facetimes when they could just text

dabbles in bullet journaling

buys themselves flowers

freestyles in the shower

accepts you even if you don't accept you

brings a legit dish to the potluck

effortlessly funny


++++ MONDAY ++++

horror film buff

considers themselves lucky

heavily invested in their kids science fair projects

taught themselves piano

bad at names, great at faces

does chores to relax

owns a pair of binoculars

life is full of potential, loves costco, buys 33 oz of avocado oil, never tried it, sounds cool


++++ TUESDAY ++++

texts if they're gonna be late

takes good care of their language

probably the boss

25% tip no matter how bad the service

will light the world on fire and start a new one for their friends

could charm a velociraptor

never not solving problems

prays kind of


++++ WEDNESDAY ++++

wants to believe

compliments the hell out of you, would make a worm feel worthy

literally never frowns

actually curious, how are you?

surprisingly good at darts

can cook three things very well

friends since childhood

communication minor


++++ THURSDAY ++++

so grumpy it's charming

loves knives and kittens

made an excel spreadsheet to prepare for your vacation

loud like their heart

the nicest fighter you know

volunteered in their kid's classroom, menu planned, went to the moon, and called their legislators before you got out of the shower

worrying is their love language


++++ FRIDAY ++++

consistently 10 minutes late

follows astrologers on instagram

always down to picnic

unafraid to be honest with themselves

can turn a waiting room into a party

randomly sings things instead of saying them

get someone who looks at you the way they look at you

casually hyperbolic


++++ SATURDAY ++++

would carry a piano down a flight of stairs if it'd help you out

has not outgrown making silly faces

applauds your underappreciated talents

uses words like "gratitude" and "sparkle situation" and "last weekend when I was roller skating"

forgives all their family members

does not stick to the grocery list 

impeccable sense of direction

humble af


#nationalpoetrymonth, days 14-20

Writing Hacks

Make out with a poem in an elevator

Apply poems to insect bites

Rub poems on steaks

Hand wash your poems

Look a poem in the eyes

Climb a poem

Drink plenty of poems

Don't text your ex-poems

Push your poems in when you leave

Break a poem apart and use it to make new poems

Throw poems at weddings

Shoot a poem, hook a poem, gather poems in the wild

Prepare poems for winter

Share with your neighbors


#nationalpoetrymonth, day 13