The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

I woke up with this poem on my mind, have no idea why. Usually I wake up with a pop song on my mind, like gum stuck to the bottom of your shoes, as a friend once said. This poem is close enough to a song though I’m more than happy to have it stuck in my mind all day.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!


Reading The Stranger

There’s a young woman sitting at the table across from me. Every time I look up from my book, I notice how beautiful she is. A beauty entirely hidden if not for the soft brown curls that frame her face and the lazy Sunday mornings she reminds me of despite her apparent agitation with the notebook under her pencil.

Every time the door opens with the tinkling of a bell, I look up expectantly. Except I somehow missed Ton coming into the cafe. He startled me when he sat down next to me in one quick, fluid motion. I don’t remember telling him where I’d be, but I must have. My mind still hasn’t recovered completely from the lack of sleep. The latte on my table is getting cold. “Sometimes I think of you as I’m drinking my tea, and it is getting cold and the day isn’t even half over.” Every time I read that line, I think back to my days working in San Francisco, when I used to will time to carry me to 5 o’clock. Now I’m constantly marveling at how quickly time passes, how many hours are lost in conversations and how there is never enough time to read.

As my latte cools, I’m reading Camus and thinking about how trite it is for me to finally settle on a cafe in this city and it is called Cafe Belong. More people are coming in, the noise level is rising, and I realize there are people who go to cafes to socialize, to go over pictures on their cameras and chat with their friends. The bell by the door keeps tinkling and I keep glancing up. “If you want to give it another shot, I’ll be there till 4.” I tried to not read too much into the message as I wrote it. I tried to keep hope at bay, disappointment and hurt out of my voice.

I think about consciousness and the burden it places on our souls, that with consciousness ends our ability to be content, to be satisfied and the effort we put into numbing that consciousness. With alcohol and drugs, with sex and love, with travels and escapes. With meditations. With a yoga mat under my feet, Dvorak playing, and lightening splitting the sky.

Fate Playing

Because the message somehow met a goblin,
Because precedents tripped your expectations,
Because your London was still a kaleidoscope
Of names and places any jolt could scramble,
You waited mistaken. The bus from the North
Came in and emptied and I was not on it.
No matter how much you insisted
And begged the driver, probably with tears,
To produce me or to remember seeing me
Just miss getting on. I was not on it.
Eight in the evening and I was lost and at large
Somewhere in England. You restrained
Your confident inspiration
And did not dash out into the traffic
Milling around Victoria, utterly certain
Of bumping into me where I would have to be walking.
I was not walking anywhere. I was sitting
Unperturbed, in my seat on the train
Rocking towards King’s Cross. Somebody,
Calmer than you, had a suggestion. So,
When I got off the train, expecting to find you
Somewhere down at the root of the platform,
I saw that surge and agitation, a figure
Breasting the flow of released passengers,
Then your molten face, your molten eyes
And your exclamations, your flinging arms
Your scattering tears
As if I had come back from the dead
Against every possibility, against
Every negative but your own prayer
To your own gods. There I knew what it was
To be a miracle. And behind you
Your jolly taxi-driver, laughing, like a small god,
To see an American girl being so American,
And to see your frenzied chariot-ride —
Sobbing and goading him, and pleading with him
To make happen what you needed to happen —
Succeed so completely, thanks to him.
Well, it was a wonder
That my train was not earlier, even much earlier,
That it pulled in, late, the very moment
You irrupted onto the platform. It was
Natural and miraculous and an omen
Confirming everything
You wanted confirmed. So your huge despair,
Your cross-London panic dash
And now your triumph, splashed over me,
Like love forty-nine times magnified,
Like the first thunder cloudburst engulfing
The drought in August
When the whole cracked earth seems to quake
And every leaf trembles
And everything holds up its arms weeping.

From Birthday Letters, a collection of poems written by Ted Hughes to his wife, Sylvia Plath, in the years after her suicide.

Nanjing Continued

I slept in this morning; it’s a luxury these days. When I pulled the curtains aside, I was surprised to find the courtyard flooded with golden sunlight. Spring had arrived over night. Winter, with its bone-chilling days, was over. February, with its unfulfilled promises of romance, had gone. There was only Spring, bathing my room in the warmth of its glow.

As I passed the courtyard on my way to the West building, it dawned on me that I’m a Master’s Candidate. This program was the dream and now here I am, living  it. The realization rooted me to the ground and I stood there waiting, allowing exuberance to shiver through my body.

Day Three of living in the present tense. No longer filled with frustration by the possibilities now outside of my reach, I am happier. Until I walk out of the library and am suddenly enshrouded in melancholy. You must be back in Nanjing; your presence is felt as keenly as your absence.

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Infinite Affection


The little things keep coming back to me.

Your black pants with the leather detailing, the tattoo on your right arm. The first time we kissed, the glow of the street lamps, my black dress whipping in the wind. Listening to you beatbox on Christmas Eve, believing it was the sound of my heart galloping with joy.

Your maroon sweater with the penguin in the corner. I took it to bed every night until it no longer smelled like you. Then I kept it for two more nights just to be sure that when I returned it, it’d carry my scent to you.

The look on your face when I said I was leaving, you were tugging at the bed sheet like you could check the thread count.

The first time we met. The first time we officially met.

Every conversation we’ve ever had. Every invitation you extended. Every time I crossed the street, walked down the alley, up the stairs to your place.

The first time, you were sitting outside waiting for me. I felt guilty. That’s how I felt most of the time with you, guilty and uncertain. Then I was surprised to find how disoriented I felt leaving your gaze, when the world would suddenly snap into focus. I never thought we would happen. It was just friendly chatting, just a movie, just an afternoon at a coffee shop. Then we kissed beneath the glow of the street lamps, my flimsy black dress whipping in the wind, your warmth keeping me steady despite the cold, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful it all was.

Your hands. Which were always clammy. Until they weren’t. Until you were swallowed by movies, emails, flights, and visitors. I grew weary of fighting for square footage in your life.

Two nights after we retired to friendship, I saw you at the bar down the street. You were looking at me the way you used to, with infinite affection and tenderness. I felt heat creep up my face under your gaze.

Conversations with Strangers -Saigon

“Where are you from?” He asked.
“California.” It was the first answer that came to my mind. Close enough to the truth.
“I’m from Shanghai.” He said.
“Really?” Then in Shanghai dialect I asked him how long he’d been traveling.

I had just arrived at my hostel in HCMC, a mixed door room for eight, white and pristine. I was unpacking my camera when he came into the room and started a conversation. It’s rare to meet a solo Chinese backpacker in SE Asia, even more rare to meet someone from my hometown. I dropped my guard instantly, a little too quickly.

“What are your plans for tonight?” He asked.
“I’m meeting up with a friend who’s here for work.”
“Do you want to go check out the nearby street and grab a beer until then?”

I believe there is an unspoken backpackers’ code. Under any other circumstance I would’ve declined his invitation. But when you’re a solo backpacker meeting another solo backpacker, friendliness is expected. And though a red light flashed for a second in my mind at the mention of alcohol, I dismissed it, it seemed unnecessarily rude to turn down a seemingly innocent invitation now that we were conversing in Shanghainese, which just might be my most native tongue.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

I twirled the ring on my finger, a ring I had worn specifically for this trip, a ring that was going unnoticed by everyone except for me. I mulled over the question, it gave me a punch in the chest as recent events came to mind. I contemplated lying but a lie would lead to more questions and more lies and I am a terrible liar.

“No, I don’t.”

It was late. We had returned from the bar where I met up with my friend and his coworker. I had found a quiet spot in the hostel to do some writing and he had found me in the dark.

“Why not?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“I think you’d make a good girlfriend, a good wife, don’t you think so?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been anyone’s wife before.”
“I mean the overall feel you give off…”
“Can I be your boyfriend?”

I laughed, it was the only response to such a ridiculous proposal. He went on to justify his question. And even though I have no desire to be with him, found absolutely no spark between us, felt nothing except mild annoyance towards him, for a second, a second, I imagined how easy it’d be to say yes. I felt tired of swimming upstream, tired of swimming at all. It’s like that dream where you’re running as fast as you can, lifting your feet and putting them down, and getting nowhere, an invisible force holding you in place, an invisible wall stands between you and the other side, the other side being happiness.

Except in my dreams, I leap. I soar. I push myself off the ground and land on rooftops. In my dreams, acrophobia does not exist. So I declined. He asked again and again I said no. He got up to leave, standing over me and asking me again if I were certain. Whatever he thought he could offer me, I wanted none of it. I offered him a handshake. He pulled me in for a hug. I was surprised to find him shaking like a leaf. I forced my way out of his grip.

The only evidence of the episode was a message on my phone from him telling me he’s arrived in Singapore. I deleted it without reply.