Circular River Theory
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,
the glassy-eyed swell
of irises dilated to the size of a small pond.
I wanted to ask if you liked me,
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.
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:
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.
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.
bent over a prickly pear
petals yellow and tender
my mother breaks their tendons with her
her fists burst into
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.
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.