Poems

A Short History of Journey
(San Francisco Public Library’s Poem of the Day, May 16, 2020, curated by San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck)

The fault, dear Arcturus, is not in your star.
I’m afraid we misread the swells
like explorers mistaking one continent for another.

“Columbus stretched out Asia eastward until Japan almost kissed the Azores.”
“The Chinese treasure fleet had been mothballed long before Magellan set to sea.”

In other words, they were imprecise, and they perished.

(Behold the flight of birds on rarefied air,
from breeding ground to wintering ground.
Behold intention, and it’s kin, precision.)

Be that as it may, we were always meant for motion.

See how the Silk Road was paved with horses’ bones.
And more than smuggled silkworm, it brought sugar, silver,
paper—utter world changer.

See how the Spice Trade flourished,
shoring up an empire, its galleons—implacable bearers of a slave
trade from Manila to Acapulco.

The world got its cinnamon, its cocoa, its cassia and cardamom,
its lapis lazuli, and its Balas Ruby—ancient and sapphire-veined.
We got wanderlust.

And the bravest of us looked up and remembered everything—
the fixed star, the dippers, the king, the queen, the bear-keeper—
rubescent and fourth brightest in all the night sky, dearest,

remembered also the cardinal of old fields and every roadside—
brilliantly blue and sometimes true—in the same night sky,
roaming its way home.


There are no kings in America
(Opening of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting on July 9, 2019)


Poetry, please
(San Mateo County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting, October 23, 2018)

And when we speak
let it be said

that nothing is lost
in translation.

That our words are true
and tenable.

That we understand
the meaning of “sii,”

the Ohlone word for water,
which is you.

The Ohlone knew this.
They were first of this county,

borne of seawater and
woven reeds to salt

marshes and pickleweeds
and saltwater silvered

by smelt.
They fared

on abalone
and blue elderberry.

Western chokecherry.
Periwinkle.

Oaks.
All flourishing, grace-filled,

transitory.
If I were a weaver,

I would gift you
a basket made of sandbar

willow and tule,
bright as cinnabar.

But I can only write
this poem,

a tributary,
to carry

the weight of water
as it flows and hefts

the meaning of you.
Giver and taker.

And everything that I knew.

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