of leaving


I am not supposed to
mourn the loss of
you.  There is no place
in this culture where
a parent is allowed to hold grief
for a child’s leaving home:
not this burning sorrow
marring the skin. They say

grow a hobby
and learn  how to
knit my longings into
a quilt. Volunteer or
adopt a kitten.
Drape my sorries over
a professional: a therapist,
a counselor, a psychologist,
but not spill onto

your friends
or neighbors
for it is unnatural
to be looking back at
my whole adult life

during which
I carried you too closely–
first cradled
inside my body and next
between the folds of
my arms, and  I
tell them you
were an intact tiny
egg with the bluest
I wrapped inside
the cotton-soft sling
slung across
my full breasts
or my strong back
your body and mine

swaying to the
song only we
could hear and sing.
The way you used to stiffen
your little arms and legs
fighting hours of colic pain.
The way I counted
my hours of sleep
your ounces of consumed milk
the number of wet/dry diapers
the infinite possibilities
an infant/toddler/preschooler/teenager
could stumble and falter–

I am not supposed to
harbor my grief inside this
slackened sling
the vessel within which I sing

and no song would fill me.

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Reading your poem makes me
want to read another poem
about another room where
i wandered from corner to corner
then onto the next floor of this
house some rich man gave

to another rich man who
then cried, Nothing I hate
more than a sensation-
-alized article aimed to rouse
the animal in us

and you say, it is what it is;
the parts of your hands touching
parts of your body
of poem covered with peonies
and lilacs in bloom for it is

the season of old cruelties birthing
new ones. The catacombs under your feet
even as you tread carefully
the sound they let out is
unlike anything and yet like
everything else.



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Spring Fever

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Days of rain. Winter hangs on, fingers firmly pulling on the white cloak. Traps us inside its concrete sky.  My mind is in the mist. One more day without sun and I start to think I am never going to be warm again.

Sleet dribbles on Easter Sunday.  Jesus is risen! says the sign in front of the Catholic church around the corner. Spring, on the other hand, stays inside the earth, like a small kid bullied at the playground: face pushed into the dirt, wet from rain, cold and ashamed.  Flower buds barely peering above the inches of ice.  April is the cruelest month.

Who are we if we aren’t who we think we are, the roles we have played taunt us. Who am I, if I am not me, who am I if I am not her: not a mother, a wife, a lover, a friend, a sister, a daughter? The roles I play from each phase of my life flash through my mind. Who am I if I don’t know who I am?

Which self will rise from within me, burst open through the hairline fracture within the layers of my other selves? Let spring come. Let me spring.

I can be anyone. I can play any role now. No one is in my way. Nothing is demanded of me, or expected of me.  I am not a mother. I am not a daughter. I am not a sister. I am not an office worker, not a poet, not a writer. I am not this face, not this body, not this hair, not this throat that cannot sing. I am not these fingers typing. I am..

Who am I? you ask? I am who I say I am. I am who I am.  I am. I am. I

am I.

I want to steal Thor’s hammer and throw it to the heavens. I want to watch the armors of winter crackle and crack open. Let spring to spill out of the air. Let the opaque sky crumble.  The sun to brown my skin, humidity dampen my hair. Let my legs be bare, arms moist with sweat. Let summer come. Set me on the pavement. Kpop streaming into my ears. Legs to the ground, shoes soft over the sidewalk. Muscles aching from my run. Ducks quacking. Dogs barking. Cats prowling in the sunniest circle.

Who am I? I am the one who stops the foreboding winter.  Let it stay within the boundaries of  December.

Rain outside pounding the rooftops, ice smothers the newly formed daffodils. Inside, in this room, summer burst blooms.

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parenting aftermath

They leave and I stop
baking  cupcakes cookies
shortbread brownies
muffins pancakes pies after
pies: apple pumpkin blueberry
summer tarts sweet breads
with whipped butter.
The trays stay clean
crumb-less kitchen
table hums a sorrow
song  through its grains
of wood marked by
color pens highlighters crayons
paint glue residues from
fingers wiping when I wasn’t
looking. Finish your dinners and
have you done your homeworks
and art projects and egg drop experiments

between Saturday morning cartoons
PBS kids afternoons

and cocoa puffs and
pop-tarts and Cheetos all the junk
they weren’t supposed to be fed
but got consumed while
spinach on their plates left untouched
and oh how I fussed & worried & nagged—

Soccer games and swim lessons
dance recitals and wrestling matches
with her hair buns and back to
sharpen your pencils

learn your sight words and multi-
plication tables and two times two equals
us four at the kitchen table
fighting long division with new math
and tears

all those tears over I don’t know how to

and don’t help me but i need help

and Mommy Mommy Mommy

and now

she’s in Japan & he’s in Ohio

and I
I am here

sweeping the floors devoid of shoe prints
and mud smears
spilled milk and
juice splatters while
my ears are
still straining for
the echoes of faint songs
& memory-whispers.


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Monday Mourning

Some people left
quietly into the night
with soft footsteps
tender closing of eyes
as if decades of their breath & width
on this earth did not matter.
No sirens stopped at their doorstep
No gates flung open with a bang
No small gathering crowded for
their last toasts to the world.
No audience was granted
to bear witness
on how they went or when.
The nocturne of their last
heart beats  heard only by
the sharp-eyed owl prowling
above the oak tree.
Later, after the “Oh My God!”
and “No no no no no” phone calls
a lake as wide as
a lost ocean surfaces
inside our chests.
We stifle our cries
and keep them sunken
below the waterline

but always
always their presence lurks.





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Friday Flight



The gusty winds above San Francisco airport were perhaps a bit too eager to embrace the plane.  We were tossed around  like little pennies inside a washer on a spin cycle set at highest level. The pilot had warned us that the winds would be strong but oh man, I didn’t expect to be that turbulent.  Lots of moans and groans filled the plane as it  swayed from side to side. The feeling of groundlessness shook everyone. I could sense my thoughts quickly ascending  to “This could be the end of it all”.

I closed my eyes, because there was nothing else I could really do. I had been listening to Tara Brach’s meditation podcast during the last twenty minutes.  I let it play on.  Slow out breath. Long deep in breath. Continuing with the inflow and outflow, long and deep.  I let her gentle voice guide my breath. The plane rumbled loudly as if it were a beast in pain.  My head snapped back with the sudden thrust of the plane. No pause between, Tara Brach continued. Be aware of the quality of presence right here. The presence here in this flight for me was terrifying but I let my aliveness of my body be my focal point. Relax, open attention. If something strong arises, strong physical sensation, emotion, sound, letting what arises be right in the center.  Whatever strong, let it be there. Notice how it feels, and the sensations in the body…

I came to San Francisco to see my daughter who is attending Stanford University. She is my first born, my only daughter, my sun, my moon and my star, my used-to-be total Universe. Now, at  twenty years old, almost finishing up her third year in University, she is in fact on the verge of fully grown adulthood. Within a few weeks, she will leave for Japan where she will stay there for six months. She has never left the country on her own before. So this will be another first of many things for her, and yes, for me.

It was very difficult for me when she left my home in St. Louis and started her journey in California three years ago. I was a tiger mama, who helicoptered every aspect of my children’s childhood. Her leaving home was a much needed journey for me too, to find my own self, to see my own fears, to be a witness to my own mistakes.  When both of my kids left home, I suddenly found myself with ample time to reflect on things. It was as if  I flew to thirty thousand feet and saw the true scope and nature of my very humanly flawed journey as a parent and as a human who hasn’t quite figured out almost anything yet.

How many times a day, I try to take control of moments with my own narratives?  True, trying to make sense of a situation and taking control is a much needed coping mechanism of being human. Or else we would all lose our minds and courage to face every day. But still, there is a point when we control too much with our thoughts and actions and forget to let go and let things be what or who they are.  Because ultimately, nothing, not one cell in our own body or not one action or thought in others or indeed nature itself is not within our control. Nor it should be.

It was excruciating to be so honest with myself. To own up to my mistakes.  In spite of me, or because of me, or maybe because of a little of both, my daughter is fiercely independent, and most importantly, a happy and content young adult.

It was fitting to be reminded that I had no ability to harness the wind that tossed our plane like a chew toy. Things we wrestle to take control will wriggle away from our grasping fingers. And we will be grateful years later, to be freed of this need to dominate the scene.  We try to take charge of situations because we are anxious of the uncertain outcomes.  In the end, if we are always positioning to be the one in charge, the one who makes decisions, the ones in control,  it is our anxiety, our resistance to reality, that wins. Every day there will be new events, new challenges, new trials and tests that will come our way.  If we are reacting out of fear, and not responding with clarity, our actions and decisions are not optimal, and many times, in fact, disastrous. The very act of reactivity feeds our fears.

So during the descent to SFO, I took deep breaths after deep breaths as the bile rose in my throat. I listened to the sounds of other passengers voicing their discomfort and fears.  I listened to the squeaks of the metal bird which had seemed so strong four hours ago, and now suddenly became a flimsy little wiry thing being steered left and right by unseen force of nature. I listened to my gut churning with fear. I allowed my grunts to escape from my lips. Most of all, I let things be.

Next thing I knew, one wheel touched the ground, the plane tilted, and then the second wheel scraped the ground. And so we landed, ungracefully and yet, my heart was full of grace.









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What if Wednesday

“When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.” – Louise Gluck

What if I take each day as it comes, without agenda, without expectation that it will deliver something good, something fun, something to win over, something to “show for?  What if each day is just a day, a day that I pass through, breathe in the air, exhaling out what is not needed, seeing objects as they come into my view, and letting them leave when their time is up?

What if I stop searching for something, a feeling, a knowing, a certainty, anything that soothes and imparts an imprint in my body and mind? As I sit here quietly by myself, I realize that is what I do every day. I search. I subconsciously grade a day as if it were in need of a test of worthiness. Yes, it was a great day. No, the day was a total loss. Yes, I win the day.  No this day brings me down, etc etc etc.


A day is just a day.  I am not even awake all of 24 hours. On average, I sleep fitfully for about 6 hours give or take each night.  That leaves me with 18 hours of awake time during which I do truly look for a cerebral kick  even without knowing. Even reading a poem for example. When at the end of the poem, I go away with “I got it” or “That line was awesome”, my hungry stimulant seeking neurons will stop searching for another kick, at least for a while.

I admit it. I am a pleasure seeking junkie. Not in the way of doing drugs or drinking or sex or anything like that. Just in mundanity of every day life. Some thing needs to sparkle a little; it needs to impart some form of celebration in my brain, or I feel glum or let down. Is it because these days when on the internet everyone else is doing something amazing, at least on appearance? Is this why I feel  I need some form of highlight reel every day?  That is utterly a ridiculous way to live.  Our ancestors certainly never expected their days to have instagram-like moments.  If they don’t get eaten by a sabertooth tiger, they probably considered it a win.

So, since today is designated by me as “What if” Wednesday, I think as an experiment, I should treat tomorrow without any agenda. It will be just a day. Not for me to set expectations on. Just let the day be.


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Reframe: one more tool for your tool kit


“Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints–
all that glorious, temporary stuff.”

Hello world. I hope Sunday is treating you well. The weekend is coming to an end, and I find myself in an aligned place. As we all know, everything is an illusion, including me and you so who knows how long this harmony is going to last.  Thinking of transiency, I am reminded of a quote I heard this week:  “Happiness is a sensation.” I believe the quote originated from the writer Fran Lebowitz. At first, I was not sure what to make of this claim. To me, happiness is a condition but then I wonder if I have been conditioned to think that way. Conditioned by upbringing or society, I suppose. But assume for a moment that happiness is a sensation, which in many ways it truly is, then just like being cold or hot or pain or tingling, we would expect the feeling of joy to be temporary. There will be no added disappointment when we no longer feel “happy”. This to me was quite a revolutionary concept. Haven’t I always let the feeling of disappointment creep in whenever I feel my temporary state of being happy disappeared? “We used to be so happy,” “Whatever happened to that feeling of being euphorically in love?” “Those are the good old days.” All the lamenting we do when we realize our transient pleasurable moments are gone would not pop in our minds. Being happy is a sensation and therefore, it will not last, just like any sensory stimulus we are subjected to.

This leads to another thought today. Framing. How we frame and re-frame our thoughts and perception alter our interpretation of the world and our lives as we try to make sense of things by telling stories. I do this quite often, i.e., story-telling which feels true but not the truth. And that gets me into trouble with a lot of my relationships and friendships as well as stirring up troubling thoughts.

Then I discovered this tool: Asking a better question to self.

First I state this as a fact: “There are far bigger and more interesting issues/questions/themes to explore or to solve than this particular vexing issue that is keeping me up at night.” The minute I state this to myself, the whole universe full of colors open up to me. The sun is brighter, the sky bluer, the birds sing choruses, flowers bare their marvelous bodies to the wind. I can immediately think of 1,2,3,4, many numerous things that I rather be doing, pondering, tackling, tinkering, solving or learning than the little tiny stress-evoking thoughts that I have been unable to let go.

Like for examples,  “Are my children safe?” “Are they doing well?” “Was the boss unhappy with me?” “Was the email I just read implying something nasty about me?” or “OMG I can’t believe I wrote that email”, “Are they going take me for a fool?” or classic “Holy crap, there is a huge typo or grammatical error in the email/blog post I just sent/published.”

All of these trivial issues that linger on my mind, which usually amount to nothing, (because ultimately, no one, including myself, really truly cares) will instantly become uninteresting the minute I say to myself, “I know for a fact there are much more interesting things to solve or learn or do in the world than worrying about X,Y,Z.  What would I rather be solving, creating, doing if I am not obsessing over this?”

I am much happier, calmer, centered, aligned when I zoom out my lens and find the real problems I can solve. Or at the very least, reframing help me get into more engaging liberating hobbies such as writing poetry; I can ponder about one word all day long and won’t get me down.  Heck, there is legitimacy in analyzing words which seems almost silly in other fields but necessary in this craft.  I couldn’t agree more with Oscar Wilde who said,  I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. Similar scenario in  visualizing data– I can spend two hours debating on which graph tells the story better and no one would call me crazy.

So you see, by asking myself this question my overly analytic mind is finally finding real issues that beg/need to be analyzed instead of keeping me small in a self-made cell. For once, I don’t feel a bit defensive, when someone says to me “You’re overthinking this.”

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The “R” word: Rohingya Refugees



– Louis Gluck


“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel

We never used to believe the military. We were born afraid within the walls that spied on us. Even a rumor of a whisper of dissent could make us disappear into thin air. We knew this. We accepted this. For over fifty years, we are made aware of the power of those who control us in Burma. We saw students imprisoned, gunned down, beaten to death, in 1988 uprising. We saw Buddhist monks stripped of their robes, tortured and thrown in prison in 2007.  If on rare occasions, someone dared to say out loud how restricted our lives were, how imprisoned our minds were, we admired her bravery, believed her and held her courage as our beacon toward freedom.  What was learned with our first breath has to be shed by hard work, and bravery.

My father used to say that he would not live to see the day Burma was set free. True, it would be over two decades after his death before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy became officially recognized as elected leaders of Burma. Even then, they were not given a free rein to legislate or to govern. To this day, Burma remains besieged under the military and the now behind-the-scene-pulling-strings generals who continue to grasp onto their ruling power. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from the presidency, and had to resort to creating a State Counselor position to be part of the legislating body. Regardless of any future election outcome, 25% of the parliamentary seats are always reserved for the military. Still, as I write this in 2018, because of the outcome of 2015 election, the country is now freer; freeer to trade, freer to speak, freer to think. Except one more problem.

Last night, I was on the phone with my friend’s daughter for about thirty minutes. Long after the conversation ended, my mind remained ablaze for half of the night.  I had agreed to talk to her on the subject of the Rohingya refugees as she was gathering facts and opinions for a discussion to be held at her University. If you are unfamiliar with the Rohingyas, please Google, and you will see page after page of atrocities committed against this group of “Stateless” people, who in fact had lived within the borders of Burma for decades if not centuries, but  never been recognized as citizens.

The influx and efflux of population between countries are bound to happen when the borders are porous and border patrols non-existent as it is between Burma and Bangladesh.  The tension between this minority Muslim group and the majority Burmese Buddhist population has long existed, due in part to the country being under a military regime for decades which effectively encouraged discrimination against non-Burmese and non-Buddhists. The general despised anyone who was not Burmese or Buddhist. They were not allowed to get higher education of their choices, or allowed to own property. Our minds were inundated with propanganda against the non-citizen, minority religious groups.

Even after the democratic movement semi-prevailed by having Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as the elected state counselor, the shadow of military and its indoctrination linger in this country.  When a handful of Rohingyas attacked a few police outposts last year, the military and the Buddhist locals retaliated disproportionately to the point of what the world now termed as “ethnic cleansing”. Over 600,000 Rohingyas have streamed into the neighboring country, ending up in crowded refugees camps.

As a Burmese, I , along with the whole country full of people, adore and worship Daw Aung Sann Suu Kyi who has shown us the way out of our hell hole “Burmese Way to Socialism”. The economic and press freedom are finally starting to bloom in the country. Foreign investments are pouring in. If you ever visit Yangon, the former capital and the city that never pauses, you know what I am referring to. Every minute new buildings are going up, next to the crumbling dilapidated old ones. Don’t blink, or you will miss yet another shining upscale mall being constructed. And the city is ripe with opportunities, unlike the dooms day of socialism. From high schoolers to street peddlers, they all carry cell phones and conduct business. In general, compared to General Ne Win’s regime, people dress better, appear to live better, and hope better. At the same time, if you take a taxi to venture out to the outskirt of Yangon, you still see people living by the side of the streets in make-shift “homes” constructed of a few bamboo poles, worn-plastic tarp as walls and roofs. Next to the road, in front of their homes, they sell used tires, cook in the back rooms, sleep in the spare spaces, shit behind the shelters in barely covered toilets. Those are the Burmese you don’t see over the looming billboards of Yangon. Here, in this space, every day, someone out there is hoping she/he will make a buck to stretch another day. He/she does not have time to care about some Muslims group in the western part of the country being hacked to death and buried in a mass grave by the military.

What about then, I  wonder, what about the middle class and upper income people who can drive the latest models of cars and not having to worry about what to eat for the day? They too appear not to care or even admit the possibility of an atrocity committed by the same aggressive and tyrannical military.

If we Burmese believed that we as the majority of population, were repressed for five decades at the hands of the same merciless rulers, why would we now not believe the suffering of a minority group? Could this sentiment have been changed if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, from the beginning of this conflict, expressed her support for equality and the need for justice? Would we the Burmese demand for justice and equality for all, if she had instructed, similar to the way her speeches had inspired us to fight for democracy?

Instead, from my perspective, not until recently, she never clearly addressed directly to the people of Burma, and to the people of Rakhine and to Rohingyas,  or set  an example of good will, or the need for us to get along or to warn us that if we fight amongst ourselves, we would lose our hard-earned semi-freedom. Or even if she did, I never heard of it. Then, most people would not have either. It made no impact on people’s long-held animosity toward the Rohingyas.

I have gotten into heated debates and fierce arguments over this issue.  Even the most giving, the most generous and kind-hearted Burmese who practice the true Buddhism, i.e., to love all beings and to treat each other with kindness, would get angry, agitated, and defensive when I say we must treat the minority as our own.

The responses have been most disheartening, such as,  “They are not refugees, because they don’t belong in Burma.” or that “They are not Rohingyas Muslims. They are Bengalis, not Burmese. Therefore they have no rights or claims inside the country.” “If a guest is behaving badly, he must be forced to leave the house,” or “Don’t believe the stories. They are all fake news” even as the satellite images showed burned villages and malnourished children and rape-victims  showed up in refugee camps.

I am not denying that  a handful of Rohingyan people caused damage and loss of life when they attacked the security outposts.  But how can 1 million people, be ALL terrorists? The claim that 600,000 people burned their own villages and left their belongings so that they could move into a refugee camp is more than ludicrous. It is criminal.

History is full of stories of how the powerful suppressed the powerless while countries full of good generous people turned blind eyes toward injustice. The abusers have always tried to strip identities of their victims as a way to dehumanize and deny their existence. When we are called a number and not by our name, when we are forced to sit at the back of the bus, when we are denied of a word that describes our identity and our level of suffering, when we are made to be “the other”, we are stripped of our humanity and our belonging to society.

It pains me to see the headlines screaming “ethnic cleaning” in Burma. Not my beloved Burma, the country ranked as one of the most generous. But when the hard truth hits us in our faces, we must reckon with the reality. This is the only way we can become who we aspire to be, to reveal our true Buddha nature. Everyone, regardless of whom they are born to, must be welcomed and treated as equal. We must make long journeys and walk in their sooted shoes if that is what it takes.







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Happiness is a decision

“Sometimes I really believe it, that I am going to
save my life

a little.”

– Mary Oliver


Thursday thought is short, simple and sweet.

Sometimes, you need to get out of your head, and get into your body.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things today, mainly about “call and response” or “action and reaction.” I often think of a quote I read from Viktor E. Frankl.  He said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Despite knowing this, implementing this space to grow is  a very difficult thing for me.  This mind of mine likes to magnify every bit of unsettling discoveries, and inspect them bit by bit under a microscope in the hope of understanding.  But what ends up happening is that instead of “A-ha moments”, I get myopia. I lose sight of the big picture.

For example, for reasons I don’t want to go into, I tend to seek immediate gratification and immediate validation on every effort I put in. It is vain. It is immature. It is shallow and all the other terrible labels I can think of. If I don’t get immediate gratification, I either lash out, or go into self-blaming and depression. I admit and recognize this, much to my pain. Tara Brach always quotes Buddha, who said, we should not shoot second arrows. Meaning, if you ever got shot by an arrow which in this case could be a mistake you made or some blame you take, would you then shoot yourself another arrow by self-blaming and judgement? For me, when I try to avoid this second arrow, I would then go into an analytical mode, trying to understand my own actions and would come up with some explanation or rationalization which may be false but feel true. It is my coping mechanism.  I do this over and over again.  Today I realize I need to stop doing this because it is not working.

When I do something stupid to get attention, or validation or recognition, a pat on my back, and I realize it, I need to stop judging myself, or stop analyzing things to death. Just simply notice it with kindness. And then move on. But how? How does one stop life-long bad habits?

Here’s one way. Get out of my head. Do a scan of my body after noticing my need for love and acceptance. Where in my body is tense, where in my body is soft and tender, where in my body feels the weight of this world, where it feels gravity, where it feels light. When I do this, to my surprise, I can let go of my previous grip on whatever it is that is bothering me. Whatever it is that has been forcing me to stay small will loosen.

Here’s another hack to get out of my mind: move my body. Meaning, get to the gym. Like right now.  Get some cardio. Feel the endorphins kick in. See the world in a zoomed out lens. I can then laugh at my trivial problems.

“I actually think happiness is the absence of suffering. It comes from peace. That comes from being careful about desire, judgment, and reaction.” Naval Ravikant



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