Final Writing Project: Before Going Away

Before Going Away
Photos & Poems by Linda Zhou

I. Forgetting
II. My Morning Brie
III. Sorry, I’m Going to Hell
IV. Flowers on Locust
V. I Will Still Love You in Hell
VI. Remembering

(For the Sadder Parts of Me)

That morning I told myself I woke up on the wrong side of bed
I laughed and laughed, thinking of what it’d be like to crash into the white wall on my left side
They say you’re most lovely when you laugh
They don’t know anything about big brows, flat nose, small eyes

I forgot how to walk at my sixth grade graduation
But I wouldn’t do it over again even if I could
Because the beginning of things like body hair, boyfriends,
curves, and curse words were themselves, hairy curses

One day us girls stopped eating and I started dancing to the rhythm of hunger
I forced the noise out of me, for it was too unfavorable to live quietly
But still, all they saw were almond eyes, boring black hair
So I forgot about Gene Kelly and Audrey, became their x+y=z, y=mx+b,
2/4, 6/8, Beethoven, Debussy

My Brother in Christ became a Brother in Fraud as I wandered out from under the roof of his foul body
It is too bad I never quite learned to scream
Then I heard it for the first time a few seconds before sleep
It left me frozen and floating while I recognized how to hate a body

No one remembers the girls who were almost Prom Queen
And even I want to forget who I was in the red dress that year
In that case, let me also forget who I was in the white jeans, silent for a collegiate drunk,
when I should have trampled his unapologetic hands on the filthy ground
Should have dropped off every misogynist in my passenger seat at the side of the road

But my memory won’t fail me in the way I wish it would,
And there’s still a white wall next to my bed that I cannot blame for racist jokes
Maybe in a few more years I’ll quit feeling embarrassed for my existence,
love myself more than I hate sexism and church
because I think that might be a more useful skill than shooting tequila in spite of Christ,
banking on bitter coffee to keep me alive,
trying to be beautiful when I’m about to cry

My Morning Brie
(For My Best Friend)

It’s been thirteen years and the twenties are doing a strange thing
The hills where we grew up are flattening without you
So I’m leaving too

You give me love when I need it more than reason
Please, love yourself in the same way too
Because you’re my Brie in the mornings,
Grape Cider on Christmas nights
And your friendship is better than those combined

You told me you’ve once felt like dying
Because sometimes being nothing sounds easier than being something, so
Fuck the exclusion that the Agnostic-you faces in the name of honesty
Fuck the expectations and fetishes that make the Asian-American-you feel powerless
Fuck the anti-idealists that make the artist-you feel sorry for sentiment
Fuck the patriarchal system that makes the woman-you want to crumble to angry bones
Because if all of you ever disappeared like you’ve wanted to
I think I might too

But fuck our negativity too, let’s keep on living
and I’ll see you soon by the Berkeley trees that look blue
We’ll talk about Murakami, mothers, men, the moon,
how we’ll survive our twenties with our middle fingers intertwined
Remember when our violin teacher said that’s something only
bad girls do?

Sorry, I’m Going to Hell
(For a Mother)

Ever since I stopped believing in your God
every performance that matters has gone to shit
I wonder if He’s sending me a sneak preview of Hell
But what kind of God doesn’t have better things to do?

You think I’m preparing for Eternal Life
but I’m just deciding how to Eternally Hide
I used to feel guilty about sadness in a four-bedroom house
But disapproval belongs to every class, fear has no mercy and
I wish these things did not make their place in homes

But if your God is as loving and merciful as you believe,
let Him bless our home
Since you never could, He can start by forgiving me instead
for never tithing, never reading the Word,
owning my body, Evolution, kissing girls,
hating Sundays, weed, loving the World

Yet I don’t need forgiveness for what I don’t think is wrong,
So why don’t you pray for your war through famines and floods
Maybe that’ll teach me to revert, but it’ll likely teach me to drown
Then let me drown in water turned wine–
at least I can be drunk in Hell

The Flowers on Locust
(For Someone I Am Learning Not to Love)

It was a Monday when you were lost
And I thought about your frown on 10th Street,
your smirk on Spring Garden,
your Russian laugh on Spruce:
Xa xa xa xa xa

The flowers on Locust were dead
like I almost was, thinking
I saw your skinny face in Rittenhouse Square,
Mozart Place–he’s dead too

The flowers that could have been on Locust are dead
Perhaps someone is dreaming about them to keep them alive
Last night I saw you again in my dishonest mind
What would have happened if I didn’t turn and shake my head?

Would you have talked about the Bright Eyes,
perfect for your dark mind?
Would you have apologized to the Dayton Airport walls
for holding in the secret wreckage I was the last time we spoke?
I didn’t forgive you then, and nothing forgives you now
If my mind brings me back tonight, I’ll be sure to remind your ghost

It is everyday that you’re lost now
But I won’t think about you again on 10th, 11th, or 12th,
Never see you in any language on Spruce
Smile in L.A., Vegas, Dayton, Houston, D.C., Philly
without a burgundy trace of you
Love no one on Locust in honor of its flowers’ deaths
Drained petals adorning the ground where I won’t remember you

Because the flowers on Locust were never alive,
and they were never dead
The flowers on Locust were always just pretend

I Will Still Love You in Hell
(For a Father)

I’ve only seen you on the edge of tears once,
As I lay shivering in the hospital bed
The one time you let the tears drop you wailed,
it was the Holy Spirit, you said

I can’t comprehend flip-flops and Fox News,
sour cream in sandwiches, soups without spoons
You’re a Pentecostal, right-winger, a weirdo like me
You are determined, diligent, kind, and unafraid
Some things you cannot pass onto me

The images of your glossy red eyes are rainy days
And I’m going to need a metaphorical umbrella when I see the Hyatt on Walnut again
Do you still remember the view of Center City Philly from the ninth floor?
Do you believe that come August, I’ll be in those streets without you?

I will still love you when I am asleep on a Boeing,
while I’m making a mess on kitchen counters and bedroom floors,
I will love you when I’m grumpy and blaring the music you can’t hear, but still hate,
while I’m conflicting your beliefs, being who you thought I was not

Because if it’s real, I’m going to Hell
where I’ll get buzzed off of the red wine we used for our grilling,
plastered off of the whiskey floats we used for our summer melting,
and I promise I will love you the entire, endless time
But I hope you never know this, because it’ll make the next time you cry
not the Holy Spirit’s fault, but mine

(About the Happier Parts of Me)

The night the Carolina Chocolate Drops played in Portsmouth
we danced in our summer dresses, even though you were lightly offbeat
I shed my heaviness to the banjo and looked up,
never before having seen the stars that clear and free

The sky is a gift, and to it I returned by airplane wings
The airport is my favorite place–just think of the possibilities
in people and places
Whens and wheres of the next home, next satisfying memory,
new inspirations, needed reminders of my brevity

Last night I forgot to love myself,
wanting to disappear into maps
I started running to keep from collapsing
Hazy sight in the dark, but this neighborhood is a familiar feeling
Bonita Street, where I held hands with the boy with a baby face,
Horizon Drive, where I let him go

I thought of sitting on the Santa Monica bus last July,
where I was no different from the man who smelled or the lady in Dooney & Bourke,
because we’ve all let somebodies go
That night I ate pupusas on the grass,
danced with some of the smartest people I know on the sunset-kissed beach–places I usually cringe to have under my feet
I apologized for being “such a girl” and they chuckled in reply,
“No, you’re such a person.”

Sometimes the sky looks like it’s running too,
as if it’s running from my first kiss on a wintery nineteenth,
my first drink at fifteen,
the overwhelming green of July Canandigua, the last time I’d ever be at Java’s Café
driving to Tiësto, falling in love to Zedd,
every time I played Schubert and Chopin perfectly without knowing it’d never happen again,
the days I was naïve enough to think I was unique

If the sky’s the limit, then I am the sky
I’m light as clouds, dark as night
Aglow with sunshine and storm all at once
I’m running like a sky should
On the fuel of stars, only stopping for the
good kind of remembering
Only stopping to affirm the clear and the free

Author’s Statement

Six is a good number for me, being born on 6/6. And I hope it is also a good number for this collection of poems.

These poems provide some tangibility of how I’m feeling before leaving home for Philadelphia this August. As the time I have been dreaming of approaches, my head is flooded, if not burdened, with memories. My intention was to write poems dedicated to my past self, current self, and select individuals who have shaped me from then to now. But as I found the ease in writing based on memories, I was reminded that memories are what make me, me. Hence, these poems are ultimately, and quite selfishly, about the so-far me.

It has been emotionally draining to actively reach inside better-hidden spaces of my mind to write, but it is a luxury to let expression be.

I. Forgetting
In the starter of this collection, I included a photo of my first-year dorm. The walls in this hall were painted yellow, in commemoration of The Wizard of Oz, with a poster my dear RA put up exclaiming, “Don’t you carry nothing that might be a load. Come on, ease on down the road!” Although the message in this photo is hopeful and relevantly about letting go, the time when I took that photo was a personally trying period in my life. I’d say the picture perfectly resembles the poem.
The poem also covers earlier memories and social ideas that have troubled me. The social ideas that I mentioned more or less elusively here were: body image/insecurity, racism/identity, religion, and feminism. These are also a part of the poem following.

II. My Morning Brie
I took this photo the first time I visited my best friend at her UC Berkeley campus. It’s even easier to say this poem very much speaks about me as well, when her and I have grown up together to be so in sync and similar, no matter how far apart.
My favorite line has to be, “But fuck our negativity too” because it’s the first, real slap of sense after lines and lines of gloom from the first to second poem. It is also the first time I introduce a more specific place before writing more and more about location throughout the next poems. (I’m considering Hell a location.)

III. Sorry, I’m Going to Hell
Although I do not have it in the subtitle, this poem could also be for God. I find it almost effortless to allude to Christianity in creative writing because of how deeply I grew up in it, and how deeply I am still surrounded by it.
Unfortunately, this poem is bitterly driven and in this particular piece, I could not find a way to include multiple aspects about someone who I do truly love. But it is honest, and for me, this is a part of my life that I many times cannot be honest about.
I took this photo after a rave this past New Year’s, lying in a cheap motel bed my mother definitely did not know I was at. There was just something so random about the word “sorry” on this kandi I was traded, and I loved it. I guess it’s not so random anymore.

IV. The Flowers on Locust
This might be my favorite one. It is my introduction to the new place I will be living, and I was able to include locations within a location. And although I was writing about someone of the past, simultaneously writing about a place in the future is forward-feeling for me. Because I wrote this poem progressing in time, the last two stanzas do seem a bit more free, even if grudgingly. Being able to use a recurring theme through the progression of time was also a technique I enjoyed using.
I included this photo of Locust and Mozart on that mentioned Monday, to make the poem realer. Art always seems to have some sort of glaze over what it actually means or what it took to get there, and that’s the illusional beauty of it. Art can turn ugly things like pain into pretty things like songs, dance, poems. Reading over this poem a hundred times, I forget that the words were once real life. But looking at the picture, I remember how those words feel.

V. I Will Still Love You in Hell
Here, I bring back the previously visited locations of Philadelphia and Hell. It could be considered a sequel to “Sorry, I’m Going to Hell”. My tone is no longer defiant here, but warmer-hearted with remorse.
All of it is rhyming except for the third of six stanzas, the middle of the poem. At first, I wasn’t sure about the sudden stop in flow, but I realized it worked. I see myself directly asking at this point, more than just writing. The Hyatt on Walnut I write of in this stanza is in the photograph used. This is where we stayed when I auditioned at my new school and explored Philadelphia for a couple of days.

VI. Remembering
The final poem. I decided to leave off on a happier note, and I liked that this both contrasts and parallels the first poem. Again, I write of specific memories and places, and used recurring themes: sky and running. I love the sky theme for the dream-like perception it gives me, because that’s what I’m doing–moving away, a personal dream. I love the running theme for the urgent sensation, and I think this helps my last two stanzas pick up speed in addition to my numerous, hurried drops of memories.
I ended the first stanza with “clear and free” and also ended the poem, and entire collection, with “clear and free”. These words are like inhaling fresh air and exhaling relief, after enduring primarily heavy poems. And that is what I’m writing about–whatever permanently bright or dark parts of me, no matter how much I love or don’t love me, I’m leaving a place that has made so much of me, and that in itself is freeing.
I took this photo on a plane to Philadelphia and I think it is dreamy too, with the hints of pinkish colors and special view. I love that this is the last photo in the series, because it is a photo about going somewhere, and in this case, going away.


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