sea * living * prayer * gratitude * light

What the Sea Earns 3

What the Sea Earns for a Living
Quaci Press 2014
published by Nicole Borello

Poetry Film based on the chapbook by Karen An-hwei Lee

“With a stunning and singular voice that gorgeously traverses the unique music of three languages—Spanish, English, and Nahuatl, What the Sea Earns for a Living is a buoyant book full of solitude and desire. These trembling and meticulous poems ask what secrets are tucked inside the shadows of orchards, and unveil what is carried on the Santa Ana winds. While it deftly walks the thin wire between the stark desert landscape and the vastness of the ocean, this book is ultimately ruled by a lush and vital voice that loves what is lost.”
~ Advance praise by Ada Limón, author of Sharks in the Rivers and Bright Dead Things

“The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes
because we know sometimes ships are wrecked by it.”
~ Simone Weil, Waiting for God


Praise: Thanks to Nicole Borello for her intrepid editorial vision, Lorena Borello at the University of San Francisco, and Anna Borello for x-rayed flowers in her beautiful cover design.  Muchisimas gracias to these inspiring women and especially to Ada Limón for sisterhood.

anglophone literatures * asian diaspora


My book was selected for publication by the Cambria World Sinophone Series. Professor Victor H. Mair (University of Pennsylvania) is Series Editor.

I express my gratitude to the editorial board:

•Ann Huss (Chinese University of Hong Kong)
•Xiaofei Kang (George Washington University)
•Jianmei Liu (University of Maryland)
•Haun Saussy (University of Chicago)
•Tansen Sen (Baruch College)
•Shu-mei Shih (UCLA)
•Jing Tsu (Yale University)
•David Der-wei Wang (Harvard University)

The Sinophone world refers to Sinitic-language cultures and communities born of colonial and postcolonial histories on the margins of geopolitical nation-states all across the world.

soy * maestra

A reason why I love the neighborhood…

Overheard at the hairdresser’s this weekend, one Nepalese esthetician said to her younger sister, a Nepalese cosmetologist (no, I don’t know the difference between an esthetician and a cosmetologist: I only know their titles from reading the licenses on the wall.  I do know the difference between a cosmetologist and a cosmologist, will give myself credit for that) —

“The doctor said I can’t have any sugar.”

“What can you eat, then?” (Clicking noises for sympathy.)

“No rice… no potatoes… no corn, especially not corn, the doctor said, and no tortillas… no fruit… no oranges, no strawberries, no pineapples… if I have an apple, only half… no juice… no cookies… no sodas… no cupcakes…. no pancakes… nothing.”

My kind & patient hairdresser, a self-described “African woman in a Mexican mujer/cuerpo” b/c her great-grandmother was an African woman from Africa who lived in Mexico and married a Mexican, echoed, “¡Eh!  What can you eat?”

“Spicy peanuts.  I can eat spicy peanuts.” 

Cacahuates picante!  Ah, the little graces in our lives.  I actually think a Nepalese diet would be a vast improvement (smoked fish, black soybeans, pumpkin vine tips, lentils) over traditional American fare, but I also understand love for cakes.

Prayer: For the women in my neighborhood who see me at the market or hairdresser & ask if I’m Filipina, or Vietnamese, or Thai, or Japanese, and I wish my response were all of the above y la Mexicana. 

When the women ask me what I do for a living, I say, soy maestra. 

I am a teacher.

barbara * ras

Elena says Barbara Ras is conducting a workshop at the Ruskin Club in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 7.  More information here!


“There were feathers and the light that passed through feathers.
There were birds that made the feathers and the sun that made the light.
The feathers of the birds made the air soft, softer
than the quiet in a cocoon waiting for wings…”

from “A Book Said Dream and I Do”
by Barbara Ras

pomelo * rosa

A week of poet-delights!  Restoration arrived in the mail, a surprise gift from heart-of-gold poet Christina Pugh.  Then I attended a reading by Louise Glück, whose A Village Life sold out within minutes after her question & answer session ended.
A Village Life: Poems

From morning until late afternoon, I sat under a grapefruit tree reading psalms… one after another… until rust-colored hummingbirds shrieked at me in hummingbird language: “Eeeeeee!”

I wasn’t even reading aloud.

The last time I presented a threat to hummingbirds, I was using my power drill to uproot an old satellite dish my association deemed unsightly.

How do you say, “Peace. I mean no harm,” in hummingbird language?

My little English department sponsored a regional conference, where I enjoyed fellowshipping with over 90 attendees.  We hosted 25 panel sessions with approximately 75 presenters.  “Just add mini-cheesecakes, fresh fruit, and cucumber sandwiches,” I said. “Presto! Now we have instant Bloomsbury… within budget.”

So, all that’s left for the rest of the semester are registration week, two annual assessment meetings, one assessment report, one action plan for next year, a smattering of committee work with “next steps,” one year-end internal budget review, appreciations to the adjunct instructors, capstone portfolios to evaluate, papers to grade, final catalog edits, one survey monkey (pas de jokes ’bout survey zebras or survey giraffes or survey elephants, s’il vous plaît), and other quixotic miscellania.

God will carve out quiet spaces for me to review my notes for a lecture at Cal State and a reading at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, both later this month.

None of this goes forward without prayer… we are nothing without grace.


I had fallen
asleep in the sunlit
room    the only sunny
room in the house

and I dreamed
you were talking:
Well, and don’t
you see,
your voice

rising as in clear
discovery    (Fact
is the sweetest
)     your hands

in transport    to drape a large
book    an atlas
its jacket as an ocean
several pages

–from Restoration (TriQuarterly Books 2008)
by Christina Pugh

cecilia * paredes

This past week, I was honored to meet Sara Slawnik, Program Director for the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts & Media at Columbia College Chicago.

Sara led three of us on a special guided tour of “Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women, and Art,” an exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center.  

Our small group included Jillian Sandell, Chair of Women’s Studies at SFSU.  Jillian actually remembered me from our days at Berkeley, since she was in the doctoral program at the same time I was… I was just starting, though, while Jillian was already ABD.

Many *stunning* art exhibits are worthy of mention, a few spotlighted here.  

“Tsumugi, Estelle, and Kwanyi”
Miwa Yanaga
Chromogenic Prints
Miwa Yanaga asked Japanese women what they would dream of doing 50 years from now.  One example:  “The sounds I play are not for human ears. / In late winter the plucking of the koto welcomes the spring./ With a tap it reverberates, shaking the earth; / the mountains awaken.”

As Sara observed, the young Japanese women described solitary creative pursuits such as playing a koto in a beautiful forest or writing in a house of one’s own.  Question, then:  Why not play the koto… or write in your own house now? 

Maimuna Feroze-Nana
India ink drawn on paper
Extremely powerful installation against ritual bridal burning.  Using India ink, Maimuna drew contours of women and wedding dresses and wrote “no” all over them, i.e. “no no NO no NO NO no no no.” I absolutely loved it.

“Cut Piece” – Videos
Yoko Ono
March 21, 1965 at Carnegie Hall
September 2003 in Paris, France
Yes, the 1965 performance by Yoko Ono is well-known.  Audience members approach Yoko and snip off little pieces of her black dress as a camera circles around her, shot-reverse-shot of scissors, dress, Yoko’s terrified eyes.  

I felt angry & helpless watching this public harassment of Yoko. I felt confined to role of “silent witness” who is complicit.  Although this happened to Yoko in the past, I wanted to write “no NO NO no no NO” in permanent marker all over the place.  

In the 2003 performance, an older & famous Yoko is stoic, even defiant as little pieces of her dress are snipped off by audience members.  The camera, as Sara pointed out, is completely still in this video – no circling or shot-reverse-shots. 

Both are powerful performance pieces about the objectification and violation of women.  The physical act of picking up a pair of scissors and snipping away a piece of a woman’s protective covering is not that much different than the male spectator gaze – power, control, domination that renders her a voiceless object w/o dignity or agency.

“The Flight”
Cecilia Paredes

This is a sculpture installation… ten small floating dresses crafted from feathers, coral, boar’s teeth, other natural “found” materials.  Cecilia is a Peruvian-born photo-performance artist and sculptor.  I loved the way the small floating dresses, suspended on fine wires, turned quietly in the stillness of the room, each its own eloquent poem among sister-poems.

international * women’s * day

Today is International Women’s Day: “International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.”


This afternoon, we discussed feminist perspectives on “The Lady of Shalott” by Tennyson in my British Literature Survey course.  We ended partly by surmising what Aurora Leigh (of the eponymous poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning) and the Lady might say to one another.  Needless to say, lots of great insights from students who continually inspire me!

“Portrait of the Transnational Woman Warrior as a Young Korean Woman” is the title of a paper I’ll present at Columbia College Chicago after Spring Break.

The conference includes a guided tour of the Chicago Cultural Center to view an exhibition, “Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women, & Art,” addressing violence against women. The exhibit includes work by Yoko Ono – who isn’t just “John Lennon’s widow,” et cetera – although that she certainly is, but an artist, poet, and musician in her own right, too.

Prayer: For women everywhere… past, present, and future.