Curated for National Poetry Month as part of "When did you first recognize me as your own?: A Folio of Undocupoets Fellows"
April 16, 2020

Image Credit: "Freedom" by Luz Adriana Villa via Flickr

This April, to recognize and honor National Poetry Month, we curated a folio of poems by four Asian American Undocupoets Fellows. This page features laurel c.'s "summer, 2003" and "asylum." We invite you to take a moment to read the other poems in this collection here.

— Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Poetry Editor


summer, 2003

in the months without urgent care,
             my dad found the cash to make extra
trips to the drug store. ten dollars
             for band-aids and candy to cure. all
those august afternoons spent leaning
             over the sink, my dad rinsing my skinned
wrist until the water ran pink, then
             clear. swabbing softly as i filled my mouth
with sweet, sucked the sting away.
             i learned about hiding
my scrapes the same way i learned biting down
             masks any amount of hurt. back then,
i didn’t know why we couldn’t see a doctor. must have
             insurance with valid ID
to check in with the nurse at the waiting room.

             sharp tang of povidone-iodine rusting
around my lips. hard candy sugar
             bluing my tongue to match the summer
of bruises i wore on both arms. must provide medical history
             along with any evidence of harm.
bruise on my face the color of rot. my knees, scabbed
             over six times between two birthdays. still, i trusted
his steady palms whenever he washed my clumsy
             wounds with salt water. maybe this
was safety, a child swaddled in sugar, spoon-fed
             by silence. maybe this was love,
our knuckles bloodless, singing.


& they cannot take me away / not this time / when my lungs weep / every time i call home / i live forever between / a landline humming / with my mother’s voice / i choose to stay / safety is this / sweet hiss of mint / in the morning / my gums do not bleed / they cannot rip my name out / of a gasping mouth / i still remember / the one my parents gave me / still remember / what a manila envelope looks like / before it goes / through the shredder / still know what to say / if they stop / me on federal land / this time i do not stutter / i know this now / they cannot wound me / nor the people i love / in a place they’ve won / with slaughter / i cannot die / by their hands nor my own / undoing this time / i loosen the knots / in my mother’s shoulders / with my grandfather’s belly laugh / i unfurl / my jaw & my grandmother’s / prayer falls / from my lips / english stays / inside of my throat / until it disappears / daughter is not a word / three letters away from dagger / today / i light a candle / my father smiles / at my brother / today / it is both of their birthdays / today / there is no smoke / even when they blow the candles out / no ash on white frosting



laurel c.

laurel c. is a writer, teaching artist, and grassroots librarian from Taiwan. They have earned fellowships from Kundiman, Pink Door, the Poetry Foundation, and Undocupoets. Their work appears in Black Warrior Review, The Adroit Journal, Bettering American Poetry, and others. Currently finishing their undergraduate degree, they believe in long-distance phone calls and our collective liberation.