Circular River Theory

by | Jul 21, 2022

Process.ion 35, Urte Laukaiyte

Bach and Us



When I see a pond, I think of


how you saw a koi fish

orange yin stitched on its back

and fattened by the waning light

knowing the salt of its yang

didn’t belong in soy-noted dipping sauce

but in the lurch of a key change,

careening violins

the glassy-eyed swell

of irises dilated to the size of a small pond.


I wanted to ask if you liked me,

but instead

I asked if you could hold a heartbeat like a breath,

bury a blink inside a gaze,

or pluck a ripple from the water to string a violin.

Radio Silence

every night begins in surrender of itself —

as the PCH spreads beneath closed crab shacks and moon shadows, weaned off the

friction of ongoing traffic,

our tires suffer silently on swollen bellies

and we are friends, lovers and children — I ask you a question, but you pretend your

ears bleed black copper,

oily pennies and cotton bolls ruin freshly cleaned car seats

a deer —

one gnarled leg beneath its breast


gold spins into jaundice —

into the feral white

of deer’s milk —

pupils are night’s mirror, vain and capricious


my guilt goes off and forms a knobbled fist in my throat


I once wrote a poem about a deer, about ash and rhyolite and distant mountains, when

desires were wishes I could easily balance on one side of a coin

Prayer is feverish. Turmeric is Funerary.

Monks’ robes wetted with orchid water,

foreheads doused in yellow sweat.


Black iris dilated into a single petal,

sclera swollen with jaundiced pollen.


Red strings tied too tightly on wrists,

each laceration spelt in Sanskrit and spilt rosehips.


Infants dipped by their ankles in the

Mekong River, teething on mangosteen

until the purple shell splinters like a hardened bruise.


Mosquitoes swarm to build papier-mâché  nests


in air-pocked sinuses, a mirage with legs.


White ibis caws spill from a buoyed sky:


the fractured


sound rings horizontally and asks

beneath which sky it sits. The birds

drop mangosteen on black shale

and my cochlea sings with water

the infants could not swallow.

Driving Tests


My mother and I drive through Kern River every week,

where naming is preventative:

Bakersfield sinks into burnt-film mirages, Delano slips into desert. Shafter begs

its ghosts to leave slowly.


Wedged between two prairie-bushed hills,

I thought I knew desiccation

as the natural fault of the earth

its thirst for unwanted corners,

red-rimmed gas stations without restrooms, ends without roads, heat without respite.

Denny’s exist as singularities, mustard-lit and

sputtering like plastic lighters, half-alive in glove-boxes until

burnt to starvation.


My mother understands desiccation;

she was born smudged with rust, her womb heavy with sand. On our drives she talks of ashes


as the natural fault of the desert.

breaking cactus

bent over a prickly pear

petals yellow and tender

my mother breaks their tendons with her

needled knuckles

her fists burst into

garnet blooms

she boils the slick, naked bodies

in fatty chicken stock

glassy strands of lemon


and bird’s eye

the water fed,

it steals away

the umbilical puckers

left by each spine

so that Saturn may

unfold a napkin on his lap

and swallow his sons slowly.

I Cut My Lip Open So That Blood Mingles With Coconut Cream 

And Now I Can Never Eat Sticky Rice Without It Again.


Pitted Mangos Are The Fruit Of My Mother’s Enemy:

They Grew In The Half-Flooded Killing Fields

Green And Hard And Unyielding

Like The Helmet Of The Thai Soldier

Who Buried My Mother’s Old Neighbor

Neck-Deep In His Own Garden,

Crowning Him With An Empty Flower Pot.


Beneath It He Inhaled Deeply,

The Earthiness Of The Soil

Against Leaden Gun Powder,

Tracing The Circularity Of The Clay Wall

With His One Good Eye.

He Remembers How He Last Used The Pot

For Shards Of Lemongrass And Saw Leaf

To Flavor Weak Waterlogged Rice

Until The Mangos Were Ripe Enough To Eat.

The Old Neighbor Offered Up His Mango Tree

In Exchange For His Life.

The Young Soldier Asked

If Mangos Will Grow In Flower Pots

Filled With Boiling Water.


I Know My Mother Still Runs

From Steam-Shrouded Gardens,

Hallucinating An Oblong Succulent Sun

Beating Down On Her

Stoning Her With Its Pit.

But When She Tries To Suck On It

The Sun Slinks Into The Night

And Dribbles Through Her Fingers,

Leaving Her With The Fleshless Bloody Seed.


In My House The Mangos Are Rarely Green

They Have The Luxury To Rot,

To Become Sinewy And Golden

In Thai Sticky Rice.

I Clutch Handfuls Of Glutinous Short Grain

Sieved Through Cheesecloth,

Licking Lids Of Canned Coconut Milk

Thickened With Cane Sugar.

My Cuts Help Warm

The Rice Steaming On The Stove.

My Mother Says Blood Is Always In Season.

Kaia Sherry

Kaia Sherry

Publab Fellow 2022

Kaia Sherry graduated Summa Cum Laude from UCLA in 2021 with a degree in English and a minor in French. Her area of study focuses on aesthetics and new materialism in Victorian literature. In her time at UCLA, she was an avid participant in UCLA’s poetry circles, writing and performing original work at various readings hosted by the English department. Much of her portfolio, which won the May Merrill Miller Award, is inspired by her experience teaching English in Tokyo, Nagoya and Kyoto. She also uses her work to contend with questions of her shifting cultural identity, inspired by the redolence of her Cambodian household. Kaia’s commitment to writing about facets of the Asian-American experience extends to her work in journalism. Working as a staff reporter and later editor at the Daily Bruin, Kaia won numerous accolades for her long-term piece on ‘subtle asian traits,’ examining the fluidity of Asian American identity in a digital space. She was also an active member of United Khmer Students, UCLA’s sole Cambodian student organization.

Currently, Kaia works at Radley College in the United Kingdom as a Cook Fellow. Her role focuses on curriculum extension and academic development, working closely with students to ensure critical benchmarks are met. She is set to complete her masters in English at Oxford University in 2023.