The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2021

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JUL-AUG 2021 Issue


April 3, 2018

Dear Celina Su,

The kick would come: almost a cup, or a cup

Twenty robins in a field: one oriole in a tree

Heard you at McNally: some signs of poetry

Or is it spring: or winter

Same day magnolia and Hiroshige snowed branches

Some meetings at the U.N.: talk of teaching and health care

Life stirs and you are smiling: maybe Thai citizenship

A sonogram in Morocco: a book with Belladonna

Enjoying the motzo ball soup: this café I know from the outside

Movies set there: and we in

This field stretched before you: a four-floor walk up

The smile comes back: we are becoming friends

February 2, 2021

Dearest Sarah,

Between the lines of your poem, a gift. I recall that hyperventilating taxi ride through the outskirts of Fez,
as if she had been born by caesurae.

This morning, the aforementioned kick spies a steel water tower on a building across the street, declares
affection for the robot. The crunch of her boots sinking into the crème brûlée of one-day-old snow.

In my mind’s eye, the rhythms of lap swimming at the Y under fluorescent lights, your ink line drawings
projected behind you in the second-floor manuscripts room of the public library, the sensation of the
escalator en route. Almost moving away for a year, to be with a grandmother, and in the meantime, the
oud, in the meantime, fleeing Los Angeles to rescue a language.

This year of purgatory is crowned unprecedented, but no pigs fly outside my window. So I attempt to
interrogate exactly which logics are now suspended, and how many simply slip on cloaks of invisibility.

On blankets shared on the north end of the park lawn, in galleries accompanied by the whooshing of
Yan’s balloons filling with air, of Elena’s sewing machine threading palindromes across generations and
continents. This afternoon, she points to the rooster felt doll, or as she calls it, the chicken with a heart-
shaped hat.

For Lunar New Year, my father’s girlfriend gives my daughter a red envelope with a $100 bill. I am not
allowed to refuse it, even though she just gave a 2-year-old more than a day’s wages. She has been on the
waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers for more than a decade. A grammar of survival, a syntax of

I think of her subway commute. Ensconced in our respective homes, grappling in this longest month for
the semblance of a pattern of grief, who among us travels, performs hours of waged care. A sentence
becomes a kind of privilege. Research as devotion.

I long for conspicuous absence, this presence of willful abstention in our onion-skinned histories of the
immediate, resistance to the seduction of despair. In our virtual real rectangles with you, Mirene and I
hopscotch, motherless mothers without mother tongues.

Our memory palaces packed with many-digit inflation rates and annotations of South American semi-
precious stones, with impossible knots of material belonging, perhaps with oxalá, as my childhood
neighbors would say. Each time, I think of Candomblé.

Tonight, we turn off our table lamps. When we hear a whirring sound, the toddler announces, It’s not a
star. It’s an airplane
. The night sky fills the bedroom with a bright pink, snow reflecting. This, too, is

You write, a snow shower of poems. Make room for. Coffee, email, podcast, zoom accordions of your
work. Each gesture a correspondence, each paragraph an attunement, a community in the whispers of our
various lullabies, names like pronouns, relational rather than absolute.

If what belongs to you is yours, what belongs to me is mines.


Celina Su

Celina Su is the author of Landia (Belladonna*, 2018) and the Marilyn J. Gittell Chair in Urban Studies at the City University of New York.

Sarah Riggs

Sarah Riggs is a poet and filmmaker who draws and translates. Her most recent book is EAVESDROP (Chax, 2020).


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2021

All Issues