My Tata, My Li Po
The poems, then, are those of a man who in the eyes of a societylargely dominated by bureaucratic values had completely failed inhis career or rather had failed to have a career at all. —ARTHUR WALEY
Li Po of loppers, extension cords & carpenter's pants—hammer's claw snug in its loop. Li Po of roach clips,porno mags, his Ziplock of batteries. Li Po licking eachnipple to test its charge. Li Po of Thunderbird,of Night Train—winito stash—in the piñon's knotholefor his night sips. Li Po of Korean War—I joinedto see the world, he once said, but they sent meto Albuquerque. He learned his drink in basic training,Nana says. Li Po of government checks, of Hohokamacequias instead of any Yangtze. Li Po of swollenknuckles from nuns' rulers for speaking his Spanish.Li Po of turn around & net snap. Li Po of s-hooks,where crescent wrenches hung like caught fish.Li Po of cuidados & chingados. The rascuache Li Poof cochinero, of makeshift. Li Po of Saltillo tiles,terracotta—tierra mía—awaiting square feet.Li Po, who quizzed me, call & response, Do you knowyour times? I know my times, Li Po. Li Po of the xthe unknown, the adopted, the indio, the crossing& extension of dimensions. X the Spanish borrowedfrom the Greeks when translating the Arabic integerof Al Jebr, that system "reconciling the disparate parts,"that calculus of Mexica in Xicano. Li Po of loosetiming belts & palomas in bougainvillea. Li Po, claro,of moons, the one bitten to the quick, or slightlybigger—a potter's rib scraping something from nothing.Li Po of aloe & layups. Li Po of scrap metal, miscutlumber saved for the day when you needed them—his futurism. Li Po in that army photo with his best JorgeNegrete moustache. Though I can't see his wrist,the watch is wound & I still hear the second handsucking its teeth. Li Po of VFW all-touch bank shots.Li Po of Pachuco & morning knuckle pushups.
“My Tata, My Li Po” from TRIPAS: by Brandon Som.
Published by University of Georgia Press on March 1, 2023.
Copyright © 2023 by Brandon Som.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Brandon Som’s most recent poetry collection is Tripas, published by the Georgia Review and University of Georgia Press. He is also the author of The Tribute Horse (Nightboat Books), which won the 2015 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He lives on the unceded land of the Kumeyaay Nation and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of California San Diego.
With Tripas, Brandon Som follows up his award-winning debut with a book of poems built out of a multicultural, multigenerational childhood home, in which he celebrates his Chicana grandmother, who worked nights on the assembly line at Motorola, and his Chinese American father and grandparents, who ran the family corner store. Enacting a cómo se dice poetics, a dialogic poem-making that inventively listens to heritage languages and transcribes family memory, Som participates in a practice of mem(oir), placing each poem’s ear toward a confluence of history, labor, and languages, while also enacting a kind of “telephone” between cultures. Invested in the circuitry and circuitous routes of migration and labor, Som’s lyricism weaves together the narratives of his transnational communities, bringing to light what is overshadowed in the reckless transit of global capitalism and imagining a world otherwise—one attuned to the echo in the hecho, the oracle in the órale.
"Brandon Som celebrates his Chinese and Mexican ancestries by amplifying not collision but coalition—a cultural partnership that’s existed in the Americas for generations, though seldomly encountered in poetry. At this vibrant intersection of language, ethnicity, and identity, inventive imagery is borne and so too a surprising lens that leaves us awestruck by Som’s rich poetic landscape and multivalent story."
—Rigoberto González, author of To the Boy Who Was Night: New and Selected Poems
"'What is it we keep? What is obsolete?' Brandon Som’s Tripas shows us the insides of conversations, family lineage, and technological objects as a line in itself—everything connected—the wires, the 'piecework,' the harmonics of English, Spanish, and Chinese, and the people in his family whose labor and language are tied and inextricably linked to material and matter. As the daughter of a microchips assembly line worker, I have been waiting for this book from the grandson of a Motorola plant worker, and I see how these poems are fragments that are not fractured, but found, heard, recorded. Som’s poems are a ledger of love that shifts, traces, extends that which telephones often do: split distance and cut across time to bring us closer to what is created."
—Janice Lobo Sapigao, author of Microchips for Millions