The history of 2017

History remembers the biggest thug
in this place, the loudest voice he spoke with
still ringing in ears where it pierced the drums.
All sounds were muted except his voice
which raised other voices as they echoed
his gesture & amplified his hate. The gate
opened letting the ice to spill out to the streets.
We were the powerless
except we too had our names given & written.
Our mothers verified our existence.
We are the documented! We screamed
even as they pierced our drums.


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You’re an Asian


After K.

You’re an Asian
They won’t come for you
Keep your head down
Seal your lips shut
Move your hands and feet
Dig your shovel
to plant your feet
to pluck the later-fruits
to chop it down
for the fire & wood
to keep warm
when winter comes
with Ice.
You’re an Asian
Cut your roots before
seedlings sprout
Lose your
tree that once housed
birds and flowers
of paradise
Speak louder in English
For Jesus’s sake.
Camouflage at the mall
in red white blue
Let your tongue lose
its hue.
You’re an Asian
Be smart
in math & science
Nod fiercer smile broader
when they mispronounce
your name
and ask you
if your people live in huts
and hunt with spears.
You’re an Asian
Bow deeper
They will not notice
how you turn brown
in the summer
and your Buddha
on your make-shift alter.

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Friday forgiven

When I speak passionately,
that’s when I’m least to be trusted.
– Louis Gluck

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 4.10.01 PM


Today I need to practice the mantra “Forgiven, forgiven” heard in one of the talks of Tara Brach. Now is the opportunity to  be “let be”.  Feel the tightness, the perpetual squeeze inside my chest, the emptiness, the ache and the longing. I’ve been longing all my life as if a sunflower sprouted in the darkest corner of a cellar, leaning  toward the path of the sun. I am never at ease. Always trying to get somewhere. To work. To home. To “self-improvement.” To love. Now I am learning that this longing is the longing to my true self, my capacity to bloom as a full-fledge flower. This is the yearning for awakeness, my acceptance of who I am, the capacity for freeness one is born with. What this moment presents: I am now given a crack in the thick wall around me to peer outside of my told-stories. I long to belong to me. To feel at home in my own skin. This body I am in. This mind that narrates earnestly with passion but stories are not real. There is no need to stretch and strain to belong. I already belong to me. I already belong to this world, this beautiful connected thread. Forgiven, forgiven. For being given a body that does what a body does, a mind that wanders, a self that focuses on itself, I am forgiven forgiven. Feel compassion for the self’s pain, her fear, her relentless search for a place to call home. I am home. All is forgiven, forgiven. Let this moment be. Let this fear be named as fear. Let whispers be gentle. Speak to the little girl who feels lonely, alone, ugly, unworthy, inadequate, needing a place to let the breath out. I am home. I belong. My future awake self knows. Loves. This moment.  Forgiven, forgiven.


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Everything is getting through my skin, permeable paper-thin. There are rumors of birds fighting high up in the trees, their chatters louder as I strain to listen. They say, eighty percent of your thoughts today is the same as yesterday. The same thoughts circling higher and higher up between the birds and my brain. I shut off the TV and unlike all the Facebook newsfeed. I unfriend my in-laws, and lock my front door, blocking it with stacks of boxes. Everything is seeping through the cracks in the ceiling. My wine glass is empty. I drink Bordeaux late in the evening. It reminds me of my time in Paris. That too was an illusion.  My Paris was frigid, cold, unfeeling, unsafe. My Paris was only warm when I dream. I drink the wine without cheese because I can’t have anything that’s “white.” Because that’s what the diet dictates. Because I am trying to lose my belly fat which was caused by my stress hormone which  was stimulated through my mind’s overzealous survival mode. Everything is going through my body, like sand through the wire sieve. Everything is causing me to sink and bleed. Like how dumb the new Secretary of Education is. Like how blind the followers can be. Like how I am singing a song in the shower and I think, I am missing my moment to be mindful of water on my skin. Like how I forget to hold a conversation. Like how my conversations with my husband have all turned into rants about everything that has permeated my skin. Like how shaky my hands are in the morning.

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Buddha as a refugee

He looks stunned as if he were caught
doing something scandalous.
Blood trails down his chest
as he sits surrounded by
the falling limbs of his Bodhi tree.
Was it a fortnight ago he’d invited Mara
for tea, as she stormed through the forest
wounding the small and the easy ?
He wipes the soot from his face, listens
to the screech of explosions

uprooting the sacred forest.
The same sound sweeps the towns
carrying the debris of bodies and boarded up houses.
He stands now, steadying his skeletal body
clothed in a dingy robe, his almsbowl remains empty.

Aye Wollam

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Poem for the week: Impossible Friendships

Every time I read Adam Zagajewski’s poems, I get a little closer to understanding this world.

Found at Poetry Foundation

Impossible Friendships
For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.
Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden
porcelain cups—and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.
A passerby with proud eyes
whom you’ll never know.
Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).
The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.
Faces flashing by
in local trains—
the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.
And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don’t know who you are.
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Today’s mood calls for Langston’s America


Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.


Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

A poet, novelist, fiction writer, and playwright, Langston Hughes is known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties and was important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance.

Date Published:
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Is the tree
to the mantras
I repeat
is not
You do not
(get to)
hate me
for wearing the wrong
Everything will
be fine
in a manner
of speaking
as daggers
Anger as
launch pads
to fling
all heavy
sharp edged
to faces and bodies
to the little
girls and boys
curled up
in balls
their own bodies
inside me
and you
Anger as mantras
to do good
bad terrible
You say
thing is
(not) politics
is everything

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Fuck 2016! I hear this phrase a lot as the year came to an end. I would nod along when I hear this from friends and strangers. The year has been brutal, I would agree, remembering the pre-and post–election devastated feelings, as well as the deaths of famous people and icons I’ve grown up with, and listened to. At the back of my mind though, I kept asking if 2016 was really any different than any other year.

We are not the waves but the ocean.

I wanted so much to write a story of 2016: of hope and despair, trial and tribulations, defeat and triumph, wrapped in the pretentious cloak of wisdom and bullet-point how-tos. Instead, what I have is the strange revelation that I am home again.

You are here! That was what my 91-year-old aunt said when I visited her in Yangon a few weeks back. There are not a lot of places on this earth someone will see me arrive and scramble to greet me. The people who have watched me arrive in this world, watched me play, run, speak, sing, dance, grow, leave for decades, and come back as a stranger are the only ones who will say, you are here! When did you get here? How long are you staying? I am so happy to see you.

I’ve taken detours and gone on adventures. I’ve put distance between me and my childhood, only to circle back and arrive again. The ones who were left behind have always been here waiting for my return, without waiting for my return. What I have in my hand is what have been given to me: a persimmon a nun has peeled with her patient hands, the tenderness of my childhood, the need to belong (now, with the slight know-how). Instead of looking back in 2016, where I did not gain much wisdom, and commit the same ego-centric errors and fear-based reactionary living over and over again, I want to say, Hey, 2017. Where shall I begin?

It is true that travel yields much insight. Day One of this year has started with my recent travel to my past, and then arrive back again in my present, surrounded by my family and equipped with the knowledge that I have been blessed with the love of many good people on this earth. What better way to begin a year? What better way to begin a journey? 2017 will be the year where I will be guided by love, self-love, world-love, the best kind of love.

Best discoveries of 2016:

Tara Brach, Tara Brach, Tara Brach. I can’t say enough how she has changed my life. If you’re like me, and have been feeling the missing part in you although your life seems to be on track, go listen to her podcasts and guided meditations. They have continued to change my life. I’ve been a frightened child all of my life but now I’ve never felt fuller, and more ready to live life wholly. Go ahead, don’t feel shy, put your hand over your heart and say, “It’s okay, sweet heart.” Make a “U-turn” and pay attention to the part of you that needs the most love.

Tim Ferriss: He made me want to always give the best version of me in all circumstances. Some of his podcasts are a little over the top for me but the essence of his experiments and his steely determination to always find the tactics and “Tools of the Titans” as he named his new book are absolutely inspiring. I listen to him while cooking, folding laundry, driving to/from work and always find at least one suggestion that I can apply to my daily life.

Generosity: Being surrounded by friends and family who are always giving without a thought of getting back is a wonderful feeling. As I travel back home, I find myself observing each person and how he/she gives his/her time, effort, money, heart to others without holding back. Give something to anyone and you are a rich man/woman.

Most of all:

Mantra that saves me every day: “You cannot control other people’s actions, but you can control your reaction.”  I’ve been practicing for about two weeks now and this concept is absolutely revolutionary to me. It’s not like I didn’t know this before but I haven’t truly practiced it to the level of mindfulness until now.

I say this mantra in my head when I feel insecure. I say it in my head when I am in the midst of fear-based reactionary  posturing. I say it in my head when someone cuts me off on the road, when someone sends a nasty (to my eyes) email to me, when someone puts me down, when someone lifts me up, when someone wants more things out of me when I cannot give, when I cower in shame, when I get anxious for goodbyes and unfinished tasks, when I look at my life and feel unworthiness.

I cannot control all aspects of nature, life, people, weather, coworkers,news, bosses, family, friends, strangers, lovers, haters, cat, houseplants, but I can control my mind’s reaction to the uncontrollable circumstances. Someone once said that if you boil the essence of emotions down, there are only two emotions in existence: fear and love. Which one would I choose?  I ask myself when I start to react to whatever the undesirable stimulus that makes my mind and body recoil. Would I choose to react out of fear or would I embrace love (especially self-love)? Those questions will stop whatever battles going on inside my head.

2017, I am eager to meet you.

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Thoughts from the hive

My mother is happy to see me in her home again. She hasn’t seen me for a year now. Are you hungry? she asks. Are you happy? she wonders. She prepared my childhood favorite meals, and gave me gifts and stacks of money to spend. Her skin looks clear and firm, I tell her. She compliments me for staying fit. We are like two old acquaintances determined to stay on each other’s best side.

From Missouri, my husband sent a message to me this morning.  One University (the school my son had applied and most wanted to get in) rejected him, the message read. I think our son is feeling sad although he doesn’t say much, my husband wrote.  I read this message at 5:45 am and started pondering worst case scenarios.  Is he feeling okay? I wonder. Are you sad, Thar Lay? I want to ask. I have no solace to offer to him. I don’t know what future holds for my son. I don’t know which school will accept him. His sister is attending a very selective and prestigious University. Is he feeling like he is not measuring up? Is he feeling like he’s in her shadows?  Is he okay? I asked my husband who offered his best guesses. My son always keeps his emotion inside him. We never know. What can we do right now anyway?

I’ve always been a protective mother. I’ve always wanted to shield my kids from pain and suffering. Life does not work like that. Life has its own plan. We don’t get to choose what or how much we suffer or succeed. We can only choose to grow from our seeming failures and losses. At least, that’s my mantra for today.

This morning I went to  a cafe in Yangon. There were children serving food to the packed crowd at the place. I placed my breakfast order to a boy who looked no more than eight or nine years old. “Trainee” a printed badge was pinned to his green jersey. Green means the boy is in training to be a waiter, my friend explained. Yellow means he’s been trained to wait on customers. There were boys in yellow jersey swiftly taking orders and clearing tables. They looked about ten or eleven. Twelve at most. The whole place is run by boys in green and yellow with few adult employees scattered about.

Maybe they just look young but they might actually be sixteen, I told myself as I shoved breakfast down my throat.  You never know with Asians, I said to my friend who nodded. I stared at a boy in yellow who was wiping the tables clean. His little face is devoid of sadness. It is clear that he only has one thing on his mind: to get the job done as quickly and thoroughly as he can. More people came in and they got seated by the boys in green. The more people got shuffled out, and the more people shuffled in. More coffee and tea and noodles were served. More empty plates were carted away. The boys in green weaved through the closely placed tables and chairs clearing the plates as they went. The boys in yellow moved swiftly, skillfully, determinedly as if this were a beehive and them the loyal bees.

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