Poetry by Asela Lee Kemper
Updated: May 16
Track: “Black Swan” by BTS
With Tamar’s jokes and my elders’
faces flash on tweet after tweet Rest In Peace,
I don’t want to be here.
I have grown numb to apologies
from strangers who only saw me
once and friends who I haven’t spoken to
after I left Folsom and Ashland and tried to be better.
The pain I had since I was six
and that it rested in my chest began to burst
through my rib cage, drilling holes in each
bone as every memory and unsure problem that
were gaslighted creeped back to me.
I promised my mom to blend in. Laugh off the racist
jokes about us because they were just “words” to her,
that Mickey Rooney’s skin tight Yellowface on
Breakfast at Tiffany’s rang truth to her. Not get myself in trouble
when I was alone, standing face-to-face with
white supremacy even though I didn’t know its name
Deflecting then blaming her old age before telling me
I don’t remember that. Why would I say that?
YOU remember wrong, I swallowed my courage
as I watched mom isolate herself
further and further from the world. I am still scared
to confront her, telling her that even if her memory was foggy
I would never lie.
I would never allow this hurt become part of my bloodstream,
letting my self-hate be its own person if everything I recalled
were stories I saw on TV. Nobody taught me this pain.
I only learned to blend in, leaving my identity
behind to the pitchforks and racial banter.
I hid from the crowd, afraid that they will look down on
my sensitivity whenever my Asian pride gets put
into question, that if my identity was worth saving.
When I lifted my head for the first time,
I almost broke my neck.
At this point, I don’t want anyone’s sympathy
or mom coming into her senses about her own
I just want to be left alone.
Asela Lee Kemper holds a BFA in Creative Writing with a minor in Emerging Media & Digital Arts from Southern Oregon University. She holds many positions including co-editor at Chopsticks Alley Pinoy, poetry editor at Variety Pack, and poetry reader at Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Timberline Review, and Marías at Sampaguitas. She also has published works in SOU Student Press, Flawless Mag: The Border Issue, Silk Club: QUIET, Reclamation Mag, and the anthology No Tender Fences. Asela uses her passion for creative writing to open conversations on diversity and identity in literature. As an Asian American, she uses her platform to engage and uplift underrepresented Asian American artists. She currently resides in Oregon, USA with her family. Follow Asela on Twitter at @AselaLeeK and Instagram at @thesakuraink.