Poems

Legacy
—for Nanay, Naomi Imamura Patridge, Ginetta Sagan, Jackie Speier, and all the women who made San Mateo County what it is today
(Marsh Hawk Press Review, Spring 2021; also presented to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in honor of Women’s History Month on March 9, 2021)

To tell her story, you must know when
to put courage in a matchbox and conceal

it in a loaf of bread. You must learn how
a message betokened deliverance

when courage is simply a word someone
wrote on a slip of paper and the sweet

scent of bread could no longer sustain you.
You must grasp your other hand with what

grit remains, growing and unyielding.
To tell her story, you must walk in her shoes.

If forced out of your leased farmland,
don’t forget to bring rice if you can pack

only what you can carry. And if
your mother did not speak inside the bus

with the windows covered with brown paper
on the way to the barracks, it was only

because she was praying that you would not be
housed in the horse stall with the manure

whitewashed over. And if you were, she was
deciding what to do about the smell.

To tell her story, you must remember
the landscape from behind barbed

wire fences. You must gaze at your body
and know its history, look beneath

the tender, ridged scars and see the bone
protruding out of your right arm

and hole the size of a football
on your right thigh, wondering how

the lights never went out. You must
look at the image of your grandmother

with the weight of rammed earth against
what you survived. To tell her story,

you must say a prayer, not of sorrow,
but of grace. You must loosen the earth,

pick daffodils to the base of the stem,
remember your roots and ordinary days,

and the grit under your fingernails,
the way your grandmother taught you.


This Faith We Sing
(FORusa, November 2020)


There are no kings in America
(Vox Populi, July 4, 2020)

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Haint Blue
(San Francisco Chronicle, June 19, 2020)

To free yourself of the haint,
you need to vanquish it.
Paint your porch
the color of water
which is power,
with the might to scatter
blue light to the green
of seawater. But remember
how heavy color can be.
How shades of blue
came from true indigo,
which needed an abundance
of water and limestone
above the bedrock before
it became a cash crop,
which needed to be pounded
and crushed, and dusted
with wood ash to make
blue cakes, which was the currency
of slavery: a bolt of cloth
dyed indigo for one human body.
But mixed with lime and some
white mineral, it resembled water
which haints could not cross over.


In Half Moon Bay
(The Banyan Review, Spring 2020, edited by Tayve Neese)


*Information about Aileen’s poetry collections/chapbooks here and here.