solitude: natasha sondakh & carolyn stein

Featured image: Jiwoon Pak


i sat engulfed in
the moon’s cold embrace as she
weeps, melancholy trailing down
her crater dimples
in tears of torrential rain as my
mother spits into her pork dumplings
singing xiǎo tù zi guāi guāi
to my sisters reminding them not to trust
wolves in rabbit clothing, while i remained
on the cold glass
trying to decipher the language they speak
in its intricacies because i can’t speak love

my mother tells me
to invest vibrant colors into calligraphy,
arts and crafts but how can i when
my world is sepia:
damp ink stagnant on blank parchments
while my sisters’ calligraphy brushes dance
to perfumed staccatos
dotted with jolly; they play with their
identical red matryoshka dolls while i am
stuck with discarded
silk figurines, their colors drained by time and
neglect like how my mother exiled me to
wet grass, dampened
by the remains of the moon’s melancholy
and tears of women with tarnished reputations,

tarnished by cocooned words
spoken by lips that have kissed a frightening insecurity
telling us that we are silk figurines, but only because
we pour powder on our cheeks
to become a concept that my mother can understand
since she invests herself in these flawed concepts
to understand me
as a darkened sky, painted by clouds
soaring lanterns that replace the stars
this is why i stay engulfed
in the moon, molding tea into the cup she
thinks i am, holding my silk figurine close
to my breasts
neglecting reality
sitting on wet grass




Lost Fish

          where do fish sleep?
i know they sleep in the water—
but do they sleep still and peaceful?
do they fall to their side and spiral down
to the soft sand? is the sand still soft when they fall?
would the sand always catch them?
what if they plippity-plop onto a rock?
i plippity-plopped onto a rock one time.
my knee rubbed raw and felt tender, but I didn’t like that
and i criedandcried until my throat dried up
and mommy wrapped me in her wrinkled arms.
the same way she does with her rough blue towels
when i rise from my bath
but fish don’t have mommies, at least, i don’t think.
they swim in schools, is what i’ve learned.
but what about the fish who don’t go to school?
i’ve been to school before. i remember how the
clouds brushed over a red bell as goosebumps scattered up
and down my arm. i left timbo at home because mommy said
blankies don’t like to go to school. i was told to go to the turquoise room,
where kids threw themselves into toy towers, blocks crumbling to the ground
as they growl with laughter. like the movies my parents
like to watch late at night when they think i’ve gone sleepy. some nights,
all i see are ant-like bodies colliding to the ground with glass windows.
but one night, i saw an eyeless creature with a metal ribcage
and jagged tail sink its teeth into the screen as it pounced on a tiny human.
i remember replaying it in my head as a girl in silver brushed by my shoulder.
i screamed and a lady in the long skirt asked me to step outside
for the rest of class, where the bell hung heavy above me. i never went back to the
turquoise room after that. but at least now i never have to leave timbo’s warmth.
if a fish doesn’t go to school, is he lost?
i’ve never been lost before, at least—i don’t think. i have felt a tossing,
no—a turning in my stomach before. all my weight had left my body
and there was this feeling i’ve never felt before. this empty—
can fish get lost? i mean, their home is the sea, so do they ever really lose their way?
i know that the depths of the seafloor are dark. but I don’t know what’s down there
because i don’t plippity-plop that far down. at least, i hope i don’t.
i know i’m a big boy now because i don’t sleep with timbo anymore.
i don’t cryandcry. and yet i still don’t know what comes out after dark.


natasha on process

Lost Fish is a poem that explores the feeling of loneliness before a person realizes that he’s lonely. This poem takes on the voice of a child and is told in a stream of consciousness to enhance the emotion of loneliness.

My partner Tasha was a pleasure to work with. She gave very nice comments and helpful critiques. All of her critiques were specific and honest, which I really appreciated. She also introduced me to a literary device called intertextuality. Though I have seen intertextuality used in other pieces, I have never considered using it in my writing. It was fun to play around with for my poem and I will definitely consider using it in more in my  work.


carolyn on process

Lantern is inspired by the Chinese legend about Chang’e – the Chinese goddess of the moon – and the origin of the Mid-autumn Festival. A lonely Chang’e narrates this poem in a series of memories whilst reminiscing her childhood. Link to the legend

Despite her busy schedule, Carolyn still found time to make this collaboration work. Her feedback was insightful and gave me a macro scope of what I had to fix – something that I lack in terms of editing my own poems. She gave ideas on how to sculpt/build on some areas of the poem and pointed out cliches I wouldn’t otherwise have found. I wrote my piece after reading Lost Fish; thus, Carolyn inspired me to play with spacing and use a narrative voice that is simple, clever, yet can still employ poetic language.







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