KRISTINA TOM


A native San Franciscan, Kristina was born and raised in the City by the Bay, and received
her BA and MA in English at nearby Stanford University. Her family, however, is originally
from Guangzhou, China, and she is Toisanese on both sides. Her parents both immigrated to
San Francisco as children, and while that technically makes her second generation Chinese-
American, she realized on a recent trip to China that she is more Californian than anything
else. This makes for interesting interactions in Singapore (where she now lives), as everyone
wonders why she looks Chinese and can't speak Mandarin. This makes her too shy to try
to use her scattered Cantonese. Instead, she writes poems in English that fixate on nuances
of language and (mis)translation. She was at first a reluctant writer but has since given in
and plans to pursue an MFA in the future. Largely unpublished, mostly due to laziness, she
plans to rectify this soon, and thanks Cyril Wong for helping her take a large step in the
right direction. For more information, visit www.geocities.com/krimato.







To Lillian, from Somewhere South of Bakersfield

The smell resists all known categories: neither skunk weed nor misused tire, and miles to go before the stretch of cow stink, where crowds of cattle hunker steak-flesh to steakflesh. The air burns unsettled, vaguely of barbeque, so we stop just shy of Hungry Valley, where cars must spill like beans into a bowl of gas stations and restaurants. Kobe asks to switch seats with Montana because she is allergic to the sun. A vampire? Hollywood asks, but no, daylight is simply too insistent for the girl, and she'll stop breathing.

Bored, we compare scars - the copper penny at Kobe's elbow etched by a skidding moped along a road slick with waterfalls; this shadow under the ribs bruised while sledding Eureka Dunes, losing grip of the cheap red plastic and tumbling down steep sand; the pale silk on the inside of Hollywood's arm threaded by a boy's knife, who waited outside her subway stop, twenty minutes after killing their teacher. There is one in every school: Maloney Baloney, the bully of sixth grade, cried in class every week, Sheila was shot by cops parked behind her boyfriend's Cadillac, and Amit was found swinging among his pressed shirts and sweaters.

We gather our wrappers of food and drive on past a parked helicopter, the first warning, and then two more circling a hill, orange-swathed men in the distance, and smoking telephone poles - here too the sun, touched to the load of too many voices, has ignited the wires, and sent the charcoal remains of Monday lunch appointments and weekend phone sex flying towards the July grass, where a line of flames still flickers like cigarette butts at the head of a black wave.

The managed chill of the car inches one degree north of tolerable, but past the burning hills are parched scrubby flatland and irrigated vineyards. Our speed is too dizzying for perspective to root, and the rows of grapes form endless possibilities of angles and lines - a maze with no walls, infinite paths in a finite space. We wonder, from this artery of marked pavement, how one in the midst of these leaves can know he has gone the right way.






When the dulcimerist made love to the pianist

he played arpeggios up her ribs with tipped bamboo sticks

as if the bare guts of a piano lay whipped

by hammer, hand, wrist - precise flicks at the strings,

the hidden humming blur unlocked from its wooden chest.

She'd kiss the bone of his wrist, but to touch is to dampen

the secret of sound, the wild tremble in air.

Of course this tenuous flicker is nothing to the pride and proof of her years:

the humble bulb of muscle, walnut small mound,

the side of her palm as a carp's pink pouch

in whose belly lay a whole note unhatched.






The Artist's Daughter: a Phone Conversation

The sixth moon of the Bank of America calendar
above my desk is my birth moon - pearl,

no, that's my mother's. Well, I prefer jade,
for the idea, not the color - sickly

like the over-washed greens and yellows
of this month's page, long bled with water

from a boiled pot of rice. Waste-water and ink
over crinkled paper, creases branching carelessly

into bamboo. The sixth moon - my mother tells me
they were all fabulous drunks, the poets

whose four, six, seven character lines
she copied in exercise books. As if I didn't know

the fullness of a moon wet
with whisky straight from the bottle,

or the plump gourd strung with red,
a splash of rice liquor - I hate the stuff,

although the hong jiu they poured to toast me
in Jiaxing was more forgiving than the 100 proof

Grandpa served at Aunt Margie's wedding,
ma ji, mother's pearl. All names tell stories,

you must simply learn the language.
Here it's Li Po . . . Lei Baht, you say?

The scroll on my wall is the product
of a malnourished hawker, whose fake silk costume

hung crooked over his chopstick arms. I couldn't tell you
if the brush was sharp enough to cut the page,

I only know Rihaku by way of Pound, whom I read
in the awful age of perms, even my bangs in corkscrews.

My calendar boxes time like the grids
of her notebooks fenced the pen,

but these squares speak of chores and future lovers,
not the old forms traced over and over

by so many pink cheeked schoolchildren, lines
first splattered by an alcoholic, who drowned

in a moonlit river, his ghost darting like a fish in water
forever chasing packets of rice tied in lotus leaves.






Borrowed Rooms

Your rain is warm and over-kind,
one would hardly notice it licking down
the heat of day.

You see, I am used to the prickling
of a careless water,
the faucet of a worn house
that leaked the week's exhaustion.

The water runs clear here
but I have trouble finding what I need
in the new kitchen, too hurried
to spill the ache like raw sugar
into your lap. You guess
from behind the shape of my words
something might be wrong.

Understandable. You didn't see me
lost on the old driveway, my heels tipping,
black on the familiar slope. How they made me throw away
the ribbon meant to bind, the cloth
that caught my grief for him, and still
I'd stand at a newly smooth square of dirt
and wait for grass to grow.

Somewhere a window opens to a living room -
there I write my name on all the pages
of the book he left behind,
but such borrowed rooms
cannot hold these yellowed secrets
no matter how wide they open
to keep a home.



Back to Front.