Summer leaves (no trace)
Been a while since I shared creative writing on here! Here are five prose poems that ask questions around loss, affect, & beauty. I’ll continue to revise & welcome any feedback you have. Thanks for reading.
At my parents’ one weekend, I’m flipping through albums with my nephew when a photo of my mom mesmerizes me — from the '90s, eyes closed, strolling down a busy street in New York City. I rush to show her, gushing over how good she looks. She’s thirty years older and shrugs. "What about it?"
Before heading to the airport, I snap a photo of it as she chuckles, “It’ll be here.”
Days later, I'm in the bathroom of a bar where my makeup matches the wall, snapping a photo of myself in the mirror. Seeing them side-by-side on my camera roll — my mom's photo, my own — I realize that what enchants me about my mom's is her effortlessness. Not trying to be seen. Just being.
Then there's my photo.
I wonder if a daughter can be an antithesis.
Both my mom and I take too many photos. Any beauty we see, we feel the urge to preserve with a tap of the finger, a wish under our breath: "Let this last." Not only this, we're hoarders who cling needlessly to belongings for the chance of recalling what used to be — old friendships, oversea travels, sweeter versions of ourselves.
With a move hovering near the end of summer, I force myself to get rid of stuff. A friend offers to help, my thoughts' first companion through the agony of confronting how much I own. As we sort through items, I start to voice their histories aloud:
“My friend’s old Metrocard, I visited her in New York last summer…”
“I was waiting outside Penn Station, overwhelmed by how crowded it was — suddenly they both hopped around the corner with these signs he made for me…”
My friend listens and tells me stories from her own life. As we fill trash bags with things I couldn't let go of, I learn about translating memory into shared experience, how it breathes warmth into loss.
The winter I fly home heartbroken over a man, my mom is not sympathetic. "You need to move on. Next time, control your emotions,” she chides as we wind Christmas lights around the same plastic tree we’ve used for decades. Months earlier, a stranger on the bus asked me on my first date. It's a story I tell often that holiday season, each retelling lightening the sensation of loss.
To my mom, emotions are leaves falling from a tree, meant for letting go. What’s essential is the trunk of a tree, not plastic but earthy — like the livelihood a person builds and sustains for future generations. What my immigrant parents built and sustained for me.
After we’ve boxed up the plastic tree for another Christmas, I fly back across the country where my professor assigns a reading from The Cultural Politics of Emotion by Sara Ahmed on affect and structure: “Focusing on emotion as mediated rather than immediate reminds us that knowledge cannot be separated from the bodily world of feeling and sensation.” So I linger in emotions questioning, what structures are at play?
When my professor assigns Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex on power dynamics within love, I'm still locked in the prison of heartbreak. By locating pain amid a map of cultural conditioning — naming structures around the sensation of loss — I glimpse an escape.
Years later, leaves sprout upon my arms and back, flowers frozen in flourishing — a garden needlessly inked into existence. My career thrives upon ephemerality, juggling gigs with part-time jobs, while the creative writing I love evades me for months at a time.
To my parents, nothing worth holding on to emerges from anything I create. Music vanishes the instant it’s made, creative writing leaves no trace of impact, yet I refuse to let go and move on to something stable — why? “It feels right.”
Affect dictates my life. Structures beneath, I think of sparingly.
That summer when heartbreak erupts, I’m desperately putting out the flames. No prison map of structures but a dash down a fire escape — a bitter, lengthy poem exuding confusion and freshly-lost intimacy and the vestiges of a capricious love. It's indulgent but I share it with friends anyway, compelled to tell anyone who would listen, "Look. This was."
More than a whiff of impermanence permeates my grandma’s funeral in 2019. Someone shares through tears how beautiful she used to be. I look at her inside the coffin — makeup done, dressed in white, 97 years a body. As a girl, my instinct would have been to recoil. This time I linger in grief mixed with tenderness and recognition, knowing my beauty was hers.
Before heading to the airport, I find a photo of my grandma on a street in Manila. It’s the ‘40s and she's gorgeous and unsmiling, the child of another woman in her arms. Her expression mystifies me.
The women before me never took photos of themselves. Why cling to physical beauty? It's passing. What lasts is how you support your family, what you build and sustain for others.
But a single generation is enough for antithesis. With the advent of smart-phones as appendages, I take photos of myself impulsively, needlessly — not out of premonition that a daughter will find them and realize I, too, lived a life — but as a way of seeing what is, if only for a moment. This one body I have, its flights in and out of beauty.
I take them as a whisper to myself, "Look. This is."
Left photo by my dad. Right photo c/o of my mom.