Category Archives: Poetry

Heterodox IR

This came out of a long conversation with someone about how Westphalian notions of democracy do not work for formerly colonized places and how the liberal international order actually represses historical memory and trauma.

The system is in a state of anarchy
and the chaos has permeated the nether regions of my heart
Weak states and strong states
don’t make sweet tender love
No island-nation exceptions.

Slavery turned into indentured servitude
turned into structural adjustment programs
the violence of neo-classical economics continues
to marginalize, subjugate and depress.

The IGOS and NGOs hapless and frail
Diplomacy and sanctions failed
Bombing for freedom and liberty
Now we are in an all out war.

We run from South to North, East to West
Seeking refuge from the violence
of the past and present.
But the land of freedom and liberty
is an illusion
like the light that burns your hand
at the end of the tunnel.

I deconstructed the international monetary system
but I can’t seem to construct a way into your heart
dependent on the development of underdevelopment
my people are still peripheral to your core.

History fails to deliver
Memory keeps us alive
And we re-imagine, re-create, re-produce
We live.

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I agreed to a poem per day for Ramadan with friend of the blog, Taz. Now I have no creative talent so you’d just need to bear with some mediocre writing for this month.

Ten years on. We hate each other but we are still not through with one another. What is it that compels us to stay in this loveless marriage?

We met by a cruel twist of fate. It was hate at first sight with the god-awful Los Angeles smog serving as the backdrop after a long journey across the Kala Pani. We both spoke English but you couldn’t understand me. Literally and also metaphorically.

I understand your hatred. We had a one night stand that lasted a bit too long. And then I cheated. I slept around with many of your women. I even graduated from your high schools, your colleges, and your graduate schools. BUT you had promised me no strings attached and now there’s a noose hanging loose around my neck.

You look at me and see a small brown person. A harmless model minority struggling to make ends meet. But in the same breath, you call me a terrorist, an illegal, a criminal. That’s fine — I understand your need to project your guilt onto others. I’m above your harsh words, rigid labels and blanket categorizations.

You can oppress me but you can never suppress me. You can take me but you can never break me. I’m so free, I’m soaring to new heights with my wings of resistance even while living in a prison of your hatred and contempt. And yet you are the one in chains even while bleeting like a sheep about your land of the free and home of the brave.

You are repressed because you can’t see my worth. You suffer a grave loss when you choose to capture and contain my migrant and fluid body, so ashamed you are of your own shortcomings, of your own inferiority, of your own utter abject failure to address your pathology.

I’m bold, beautiful and brilliant. I want to live long and have many one-night stands that continue into the day. Maybe I will find true love on this quest and maybe I won’t. But I will never belong to you.

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Selling Lal – Part 2

I’m a hot commodity
for sale for free
with fanboys and fangirls
Too much love
Too little respect

Murals, posters, paintings of me
floating around the country
Girl’s wearing t-shirts with my face
Not enough money in my pocket
to buy back the showcase
I can’t even afford myself.

I don’t need another award
for my “courage and conviction”
I don’t need another plaque
for “appreciation and recognition”
I just need a regular paycheck.

Being popular doesn’t pay the bills
Being infamous doesn’t get me through law school
Being a cult figure won’t save the precious life
dangling by a thread in my home.

CV, updated on 7/31/2011

I’ll never make a career out of writing poetry. But I have a backup plan. You see, I don’t know anyone else who can write a graduate thesis deconstructing an entire discipline, build websites and online communities, research and write legal memos and briefs, while still delivering an intense account of undocumented love.

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When I close my eyes, you are all I see. When I open them, you are all I want to see.

We always meet in passing. At a random event. In the wilderness. In my dreams. We are so inter-connected and yet so distant from one another.

I swear that you can hear my heart hammering in my chest every time we greet each other. It’s so loud! Your angelic voice with that distinct accent combines with the thundering beats, creating music. I want to dance to it but you’d just think I am insane.

Actually, you are the kind of beautiful that drives great poets insane. I am so lucky that I am nowhere near a great poet. Or maybe I am already insane.

For a person who doesn’t believe in borders, I have plenty of walls. It’s harder to scale my walls than cross the harsh terrain between United States and Mexico. But you know how to break them down and make me melt into a puddle.

You don’t need to touch me. Your warm gaze sets me ablaze. But it feels so good when you do touch me, especially when your fingers graze my skin ever so lightly. And every time you do that, I shed my thick skin. I am reborn.

Don’t get me started on that sweet smile. It makes my world spin out of control. I love it when your lips curl up and reveal those delectable corners that I want to spend all day kissing. My heart does a flip when you laugh out loud. And I can make a CD out of your giggle and place it on repeat.

Sometimes I allow myself the luxury of sitting next to you and listening to you breathe. And in those short privileged moments, I discover the sanctity and value of life.

Sometimes I feel like I am missing God. But I realize belatedly that it is really you that I am missing. I confess.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

My head screams. My heart chants.

You aren’t obligated to feel the same way. You probably think I am the unfriendly asshole who doesn’t give you the time of day.

I’m the idiot who will invite you to my home while making sure that I am not there. At a gathering, I will talk to everyone but flatly ignore you. Every time I meet you, I’ll pretend not to know you. I’ll make fun of your nose but I really just want to have your babies. I’m afraid that if I spent time with you, if you looked into my eyes, you’ll discover my deepest secret. I’d no longer be an enigma or inspiration or infallible for you. I’d simply be the incredibly vulnerable person who loves you with an undying devotion, the person who has loved you since the first time we saw each other. Actually, I go around claiming that I don’t remember the first time we saw each other. Or maybe I remember it so well that I am afraid to admit it to you.

People call me brave but I am actually a closet coward. I don’t know how to put myself out there and tell you how I feel. I only take risks that are carefully calculated. I am not good enough for you, not good enough for something so incredible. I don’t know how to say “I love you and I want to be with you but I’m in removal proceedings and we cannot really live together anywhere.”

It’s amazing because more than 36,000 people in this country do precisely that. They love each other and they promise to build a life together regardless of the obstacles in their way. They try to build a family together even as the law constantly tries to rip them apart. They are my heroes. I am not one of them. Yet.

To be clear, I’m not afraid of your rejection. I’m afraid of your acceptance. I’m terrified that you may feel the same way!

I feel an incredible power inside me, threatening to break lose. Most days, I’m good at containing it but your acceptance of my love will tip the balance. I’m afraid that if you give me a sign, I’ll destroy many lives, many institutions, and entire countries in the selfish quest to be together. I’ll turn the world upside down if we have to spend a moment apart.

But I don’t want my love for you to be the cause of so much devastation. So I keep it inside. I let it out in small, contained snippets. I write.

I start with “I love you.” I say it into a mirror a hundred times each day hoping to get it right, hoping you can hear it, hoping you can feel it. Both of us love words, but these three words are not enough to convey my feelings. These words are nothing next to you. These words are failing us both.

So what I say to you is not important. My feelings are hidden in the words I don’t speak out loud. I can only hope you hear these unspoken and undocumented feelings. I can only hope that they fill you with warmth and strength. I can only hope this made you smile like it was meant.

I can only hope.

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Seeking Help

A year ago, in Washington D.C.:

“I need help.” I handed her the paperwork that I had to fill out earlier.

She looked at me. “Can I have your ID and insurance please?”

“I don’t have an ID on me right now.”

She studied my disheveled appearance. I could feel her eyes burning into me like she was trying to get inside my soul to see some essential truth about me. “Are you a student here?”

“Yes. I will be at GW Law this Fall,” I exclaimed proudly and flashed her a smile. I hoped that would melt her or at least make me appear less threatening. Maybe more human. Maybe she could understand what I really needed.

“Do you have a state ID or driver’s license or any other form of identification?”

I sighed inwardly. It just wasn’t working. I could feel a pounding headache slowly making its way to the surface as I fought to control my pain and anger.

“I have a passport. I don’t know where it is right now. I’m sorry. I just need to see a doctor. Maybe a shrink.”

“Sir, we can’t really do anything unless we can verify your ID. Also, it says here that you don’t have insurance. How do you plan to play?”

“I am a girl. And I have money. I just need help.”

I don’t know why I didn’t just tell her that I was undocumented. Would it have mattered though? I wasn’t in the mental space. After the unfortunate and accidental death of two friends, an abusive relationship, and a fruitless search for home, I was crashing. I was slowly destroying myself and everything I had created. I gathered some courage to seek help, momentarily forgetting that the same system that was leading me to self destruct cannot be the same place I go to for help.

Asking for help is a radical act for me. I have been conditioned to always keep it together, to smile, to suffer in silence and not say anything even while everything around me is falling apart. People try to cast me as their source of inspiration and live vivaciously through my courage and conviction, and while it may be a compliment, I feel caged, with no place else to go. According to some, I have no right to feel despair, to feel pain, to feel emotion, to express grief because then, I’m no longer being inspirational. Screw that.

It’s actually inspiring when people feel free enough to express all their emotions. Some days I break down and cry. Other days I think I am in so much pain but I feel nothing besides numbness. Most days, I find peace in being numb.

I think I am alright. I take it one day at a time and savor the beautiful moments so that they last much longer. I stretch them out so that my memories are full of moments and not much else. If you asked me about conversations I had yesterday, I would not be able to recollect any of them. But if you ask me to describe my first kiss from more than a decade ago, I can give you a running commentary.

It’s a victory to get out of bed in the morning. But as long as I can keep enjoying my strawberry nutella crepe and tell you that the girl who walked by just now is really hot, I am alright. That’s my totem.

But something tells me that I should strive to be more than alright. I don’t have the answer. I just know that today is not my day but I’ll try to hit a home run tomorrow.


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Dear Dad,

It was your birthday on Friday. I forgot till my mother reminded me with a text message. I’m sorry I cannot remember how old you are without recalling that you were born a year before my mother. I’m sorry I did not call to wish you. I don’t know how to talk to you and whether you even want to listen to anything I have to say.

We’ve been silent for so long. It wasn’t always like this. There was a time you used to love me. You got get me dressed and dropped me to school. You made sure that I got home on time. You took me swimming, running, cycling and enrolled me in recreational classes so that I could be a well-rounded, well-adjusted child. You took me out every Saturday to paint the town red. You took me to football games even though I embarrassed you with my foul-mouth. You handed me copies of National Geographic and Time so that I would learn about the world beyond our small existence. You made sure that I went to the best schools and received the best education possible. I was your daughter, I was a part of you and so proud to have you as a father who was not only successful and accomplished, but so involved in his daughter’s life.

Then one day, you brought me here. Our entire world turned upside down. You changed into someone I could not recognize. I metamorphosed into your worst nightmare: I learned how to speak about my sexuality beyond “she is a friend.” You started beating me with more and more frequency. You took me to a psychotherapist telling her that I was not normal and that she should fix me. She found out that you had been abusing me. She asked me if you had done anything more than hit me. I didn’t know what she meant then. She called the cops. They came to school and dragged me out of my classroom for my testimony. They grilled me for a few hours as I lied to protect you because you didn’t have papers at the time.

Your older daughter hated me. Your wife didn’t know what to say to me. And you abandoned me.

You had nothing to say or do to me anymore.

I had nothing that I wanted to say to you.

I had brought the whole family a lot of shame.

The silence between us grew into enormous black holes that never meet or greet each other. Over many months, seasons and years, I’ve grown accustomed to this silence. I’ve come to terms with only having one parent.

I watched the Women’s World Cup Final today. Watching football always reminds me of you because my love for football comes from you. But today I didn’t remember you while watching the game. I wonder if you thought about me while watching it or whether you ever think about me.

Tomorrow, when you see me in the kitchen or the living room, we’ll continue past each other in silence, like two ships traveling in different directions, who never meet.

I am perfectly alright with that.

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Placid Pool

I am a placid pool
You look at me,
speaking volumes with your eyes
I want to drown in them
Even when your eyes seem to drown within me.

You chatter non-stop, from nonsense to sense to more nonsense,
I listen quietly, never interrupting your onslaught,
Instead, I hear what you don’t say, feel what you can’t express,
understand what you cannot yet comprehend.

Your gentle whisper like a cool breeze
upon touching me
causes thousands of ripples
spreading far and wide
I feel warm in this wintry breeze.

Your warm hands caress me lovingly
whirlwinds of sensations after sensations churn up inside
I lose my mind, pleading silently that you would find and use it
afraid of these feelings raging through me, yet even more afraid that they would cease

You ignore my half-hearted pleas
teasing me with soft and light kisses
I simply quiver under your touch, unable to move and resist
shivering, even as you paint my nakedness with hot kisses

Tracing contours and digging through crevices
strong undercurrents beneath the surface,
the ripples are invaded and taken over by violent waves and splashes,
seemingly relentless and unstoppable,
and yet even with happy climax comes a painful withdrawal.

I become still and stagnant,
my life and heart a placid pool,
such that no ripples, no sign of disturbance is registered
save for the one you began with your one look.
I am a placid pool.

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