Creator Spotlight - Poetry: Chanlee Luu
The Mountain Boy (One More Time)
He slid out the womb upside
down—feet tickled by the monsoon winds,
breaching the straw hut sides.
He spent days sweating in the rice fields,
nights gambling and hoarding sins:
cock fighting to sate his ego,
mountain high, dreaming of
treasures locked in distance skies.
His past-life sailed the winds: fishing for gold,
like a salmon swimming upstream,
getting caught on the pole
getting burned on the stake. It seems
another life was spent a witch in Salem.
Those scarlet A's turned into academic
excellence, but still hearing those calls: bitch,
a female dog he adopted serving in the war.
What is it good for? Surviving for the next day,
hiding from pirates on the boat trip to "freedom."
He drank pee to fight death, hallucinating of home,
but he has none. He is a Van, always roaming
past billboards, corn fields, rivers:
where the salmon are pronounced xe mình:
my car—my body, my life, my loneliness
is killing me. He is a pirate, walking the plank.
He shagged the captain.
His corpse lies with the plankton.
The only gold he desires is jackfruit and
the crispiness of a fried plantain.
He shivers with the actions of his past.
He sees the future on top of mountains. He hopes it lasts.
This knowing. This avalanche. The cold is too much.
He dies and lies and repeat. He always revives in Vietnam.
The Farm Girl (A Lesson in Permanence)
Among the corn fields, blonde hair camouflaged,
Greta ran, pretending it’s Area 51, mysteries to uncover.
and-died, sticking it to the Man
or so she envisioned, but she never did
go nowhere else, just daydreaming of New York City.
Greta loves F⋅R⋅I⋅E⋅N⋅D⋅S a little too much,
sipping on milkshakes at the local diner— it's a pity
how the one friend she loved a little too much
would never reciprocate. An enigma with inkjet black hair
whose parents owned the local Asian restaurant,
whose grades made all the other kids jealous; it was never fair—
Christianity and its confusing rules and sacraments.
Greta was still a believer, but not her crush,
a Buddhist. How odd the poor ones in the North
got saved by Jesus— how odd the flush
in her cheeks whenever she slept at night.
In lunch lines, Greta stood too close,
the aroma of shampoo mixing with the sloppy joes.
Coconut? Pineapple too? A hint of the burned buns?
The tropics were too far away, just like the words
she needed. All she knew was to say "thank you"
when she tried meals full of spices and herbs.
Glasses of milk cleansing— it's all cool:
her tongue, stomach, feelings... for her.
They captured fireflies in wide open spaces:
perfection—until Greta got too reckless and too close.
Silence, they turned away from each other
The years increasing their distance.
On her final day in Gretna, a crop circle appeared.
What secrets did the aliens have to spill?
What was lost in those fields?
What remains in the after?
The Boundless Alien (No Cages Allowed)
“…the nation-state as we know it is no longer possible”
– Angela Davis
The first sight was incandescent
light in a hospital. The first memory was the buzz
of LEDs, crashing to America. The family traded rice
fields for corn fields, but still the stars shone so bright.
Math was the first love, those numbers the perfect
language for understanding the non-human world—
even the trees and rivers had a code.
A realization: all humans are non-binary, not limited
to 1’s and 0’s. At school, they mocked: “computer,
degenerate, alien.” But all that dark matter turned into fuel.
Sugar, spice, and everything nice.
Organic. Carbon. Life.
Girl. Boy. Both. Neither. All past
lives combined, younger
but wiser. Chị. Anh. Chanh. A lemon
that doesn’t need to be diluted.
Imperfectly fine in this current state.
The only problem ever was the world’s view.
Except her. And they. And many more.
They were all deeply loved,
but attachment is a risky science.
The stars were always calling.
The last sight before the darkness
was those damn blinking diodes.
This spirit would no longer be contained,
caged in and tethered to this realm.
When the rocket malfunctioned
and the manufactured elements subjected
to embers, sparks, and gravity,
the ashes disintegrated before re-entry
to this Earth. There were no incalculable odds,
no country to hold this body. No freedom,
no Enlightenment without knowledge. No miracle
except for the sparkling cosmos.
Chanlee Luu is a writer from southern Virginia, US, whose work consists mainly of poems on pop culture, identity and STEM amongst other things. The Snowflake team reached out to Chanlee to discuss the writing process and how the above poems came to be.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The worlds surrounding me (pop culture and politics) and within me (all aspects of my identity). For example, this poem [The Mountain Boy] is a part of a fictional trilogy that was written around the same time as Taylor Swift’s folklore dropped, and I can’t remember if I started the idea before or after the “cardigan”-“august”-“betty” triangle. The first poem is about a man that reincarnates through various lives and genders, but always ends up back in Vietnam. The 2nd poem is about a girl named Greta from Gretna, (which is where my first 2020 Census assignment was) who has to live with being queer in the American South, dreaming of a different life like the ones she sees on TV; on her last day, she sees some alien crop circles and wonders what could have been.
This poem [The Boundless Alien] is about my love of math and science, but also about how gender is a social construct (and different in other countries/cultures). This was inspired by Amrou Al-Kadhi’s quote, “particles themselves are nonbinary,” on a Channel 4 clip I saw on Twitter, as well as Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s The Disordered Cosmos, where the former is referenced.
What does your writing process look like?
My writing process, like my brain, is very fragmented and chaotic—during my final year of college, I would still be scribbling down lines before I got called to perform at poetry slams. My poems usually start as ideas in response to an event or emotion; then I would collect phrases and thoughts on a word document or note and let the idea marinate in my head until I feel compelled to string it together (think science concept maps!).
When I first started writing poems, I used rhyme schemes to help me structure, and I still like using forms as the skeleton to the body of a piece. I used to edit as I wrote and finished it in a single take, but now since I’m in a MFA program, I get workshopped and feedback to help me edit my poems.
For this poem [The Boundless Alien], I intentionally wanted to move it from a passive voice (like lab reports) to an active one, but then I removed the “I” in the 2nd stanza to avoid a direct connection from author to speaker, but also to move away from the idea of the individual to the collective.
Most of the last stanza was re-written; it originally contained: “these ashes fly down/to Vietnam, to fertilize…/the rice that feeds the next…/that is blessed to be a child of the shining star/that is my, their, our country.” I realized that it was the most generalized statement I had written about Vietnam that erased many people’s lived experiences. Also, the idea of a country contradicted the idea of “no cages allowed” (a border as a boundary is also a social construct). So I changed it and added the epigraph.
Where can you be found online?:
Usually lurking and learning on Twitter @ChanleeLuu.