My vision for this column is for it to showcase poetry from around the world to let people see the beautiful and important work poets are doing in our time. This means I will mostly show contemporary poetry, but there may also be poems from the past if I find them particularly relevant or beneficial to show at a certain time. Being an arts column in English, all the poems I show will be in English, but some may have been translated from other languages. I will try to show originals alongside the translations if possible. As English speakers I find that we so often forget about or ignore literature in other languages. To counter this, I hope to show that beautiful work is being done in other languages and that by reading that work we can gain deeper insight into our common humanity.
For my first post, I want to show you one of my absolute favorite poems from one of my absolute favorite poets, Ocean Vuong. This poem is titled “Seventh Circle of Earth.” Read it below:
this whole year has brought about many hours of reflection for me and my life. one thing i’ve been thinking about a lot and trying to process is my experience as a cancer survivor. i was diagnosed with stage 4 hodgkin’s lymphoma at 16 years old (my junior year of high school). while i’m in remission now, the trauma i have tied to that experience is something that comes up again and again — especially during something as stressful as a global pandemic. the precautions i take to protect myself and others from the virus (like wearing masks, washing my hands often, disinfecting everything i come in contact with) feels eerily similar to the precautions i had to take while protecting myself from infections while being treated with chemotherapy and radiation.
i don’t talk much about my experiences, and part of the reason for that is because, well, it isn’t pretty. having cancer, being treated for it, fearing that it will come back, and having a deadly virus going around that only intensifies my anxiety isn’t something i can talk about in a few minutes or hours and be done with. i think about it all the time. and i take the pandemic very seriously mostly because of my fears.
i just wanted to let anyone who is struggling with processing or navigating this pandemic know that they are not alone, and things REALLY suck at the moment and it’s okay to acknowledge that. it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to fear the uncertain future ahead of all of us. it’s okay to talk through your feelings with people you love andcare about, including yourself. this poem, ‘blacklight’, is one of my many attempts to do so. fun fact: this is a contrapuntal poem, which means that it can be read in at least two different ways 😉
that moment when you look your eyes don’t adjust to the darkness
it’s just dark and thick wet black
and i tell everyone i know it’s just my shadow it’s just the back of the throat, i say
and they believe me and no one asks further questions
but i’ve been trying to figure out, like,
how do i come to terms with the tumors growing in my body?
how long have they been there?
was there a such thing as light before the universe?
as my first blog post, i just wanted to say hi. i’m excited to see what i’ll do here. while we’re all tryna navigate this chaotic world, i want this to be a place for me — and hopefully, you reading this — to breathe. i was looking at the first couple lines of this poem on an old google doc, and thought i’d revisit it as a retrospective of my feelings about passion. sometimes, i feel so low that it’s hard for me to feel passionate about the things i know i want to accomplish in my life… and this year hasn’t been very helpful in picking up my mood. as a black trans person, i can say from first-hand experience that the world isn’t always so kind. but, there are moments (like, this poem i’m sharing) where i am able to say, “here i am. and that’s enough.” so, i hope you like it, and, welcome to my blog.
sometimes, i forget my body can take these torches
of veins and light these pipelines of blood.
sometimes, i forget that a chest of living wishes
finds home under my tongue
and that memories can dissolve into me like sugar there.
sometimes, i forget that my organs are not made
of drying sand or the wind of a thousand last breaths,