Real anger is suffused with desperation. It doesn’t go away. It murmurs beneath the crust of the ground, or a person who serves as the ground you stand on. I’m not saying it’s a good idea for another person to be that for you. I’m just saying it’s happened to me and it could have happened to you: you were raised to be connected to someone else on this earth. In a dual body, there’s no room for both of you. In a dual body, when one of you is willing to harm their body, your body, the shared body, you sometimes have to shrink to the size of a pea in order to evade pain. You evade by not existing, or existing only enough to respond, survive, escape. Existing to be pleasurable enough, to be ok enough to keep around.
Robin Coste Lewis describes beauty as a field of power. The search for land, for possession, for domination, is all in service of a search for pleasure.
She had hit me many other times. Other times, she would pinch me hard but never enough that it bruised. When she kissed me it was just as hard and just as long. When did I become repulsive? Repulsion is a feeling that you can direct to your own body. But someone has to teach you first.
My therapist tells me that I need to work on holding onto myself. This is my first therapist. I don’t know what she means. I thought that having myself was not supposed to take any effort.
Doreen and LiZhen are generous, they want to know about me. We spend most of the afternoon talking about the things I’ve been thinking and the life that I live. In fact, I like it. It seems so selfish, to want to be known!
We go through my baby photos. In this photo, I am eating, and Doreen says that my house looks like her house, that she, too, took many photos like this: small hands each holding a chopstick, the rice bowl in between.
Here’s what it’s like if it’s hard to put yourself first: you genuinely feel happiness when someone else’s needs are fulfilled. At least, this is what you know as happiness: the relief of not being seen, of having someone preoccupied with themselves. Well, that’s not exactly right. There is relief in seeing another person being happy. Being happy makes it possible for that other person to love someone. In my case, I want another person to be able to love me.
What I also mean to say is that I recognize the focus. The impulse to know someone else before you reveal yourself. The impulse to know someone else because you have never been asked to reveal yourself. The impulse to know someone else because otherwise, you do not know yourself. The impulse to know someone else because you are self-conscious of your whole self, the one that fills up too many rooms, so much space. The impulse to hide how much space you need. The impulse to hide what you need.
These poems are taken from The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi, to be published by Yale University Press.
Photograph © Albert