Tina Kelley’s Rise Wildly appeared in 2020 from CavanKerry Press, joining Abloom & Awry, Precise, and The Gospel of Galore, a Washington State Book Award winner. She co-authored Breaking Barriers: How P-TECH Schools Create a Pathway from High School to College to Career, and Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope. She reported for a decade at The New York Times, sharing a staff Pulitzer Prize for 9/11 coverage. She and her husband have two children.
Arguments Against Atelophobia: The Fear of Imperfection
"If you can be aware of the self you are, you can also dream of the self
you want to be. The dream always judges the reality. The gulf between
the two is the source of our human discontent."
—John Shelby Spong, This Hebrew Lord
Why fret, my pets?
The faultess barely exists,
strangles the good, gives you gas.
Your charm resides in your faceblindness,
your forgetting to get a flu shot, your firm belief
that white wall-to-wall carpet won’t break your heart.
Calm down, my loves.
You finish eighty percent of anything, half of that
with a committee, a third if the government’s involved.
You send holiday cards in March but see,
your friends still know you care. Readers
never know if you blew the deadline.
Nearly half your thoughts are daydreams.
You worry about getting there by six,
but nothing starts on time.
On average, you make 218 mistakes
in the workplace each year,
that bonus-crushing reply-all,
that “feel free to ball me personally”
when you meant “call.” That’s 15,478
mistakes in a lifetime.
But, and, here’s what I love about you,
you laugh a half a million times in your life,
31 times for each mistake.
“People are the greatest remaining cause of failure by far,”
said the guy on the internet who counted the human errors,
adding: “We are flesh and bone animals who tire,
whose minds wonder and lose concentration,”
but I bet he meant wander,
and I love him more for it.
And yes, you could ask,
Why create us so imperfect,
holy lord? To which I answer,
all I want to do is love you.
It is easier this way.
What You Missed in Sunday School, the Week before Confirmation
Mrs. Basie gave us one peek into the future—
one of us could die, driven by our drunk sweetheart,
smack into a tree. Then she showed a video on how
sometimes, what we hear in the saddest sleigh bells
of spring peepers sounds truer than testaments.
Next was a group discussion exploring
the Teenager Jesus and how good it feels
throwing tables around your father’s house.
Later she gave us a handout with mnemonic devices.
We learned to remember our city’s street names,
south to north, by Jesus Christ Made Seattle
Under Pressure. That proved quite useful. She also
suggested that writing memos to God can feel more
frank than prayer. As in, Subject: Push Me Higher.
Over Dixie cups of Hawaiian Punch she told us
of funeral mutes, who stood near the church door.
Their job was to say nothing, look sad, wear top hats
with ribbons trailing, and mouth silent empathy lessons
to the youth of America. Show up. Bring a casserole.
Sometimes nothing we say will help. So stand still.
The publisher advised, beware of such phrases
as “recently,” “last spring,” and “next year,”
they will quickly become inaccurate.
I forgive myself the nap.
Thank you for this knowledge: the moon is moving
away from the earth at the rate of an inch and a half a year.
There is a space in space, exactly my height, that a planet
used to roar through, noisily? violently?
Thank you for the drawstring light of sunset.
Thank you for the tripartite, folded-double iris center.
And for phosphenes, the glitter I see when I rub my eyes.
Also for the wave-edge trace dance of sandpiper.
May I remind you to keep being, ever.
Distant one Sunday morning, when hearts
left with shoes, closer now, and then.
I forgive you the nap.
Letters to Mary, for Sale on E-Bay
The bag still floated, weighed down with dreams,
with nightmares. Make him love me, make her quit crack,
forgive me, heal them. Did hope keep them afloat?
It bobbled in the surf. A seal’s head? No, plastic bag,
magenta flowers, paper bags inside, in those, letters,
unopened, washed up on Atlantic City sand, miles south
of the gilded altar they were left on. Can I win the lottery…
twice. Can the witch who called the IRS on me calm down.
Can You forgive me for aborting my child. Can the judge
see I am innocent. This is just a hint of what really happens:
the private stains of a hundred strangers, the blots on tenement
ceilings as trains run past. Tired gas station guy, home health aide,
hardware store clerk, waitress who didn’t quite care—sleep well.
May mercy, tears, salt water, and a fisherman attend you,
with the care that gently sent your sharpest wishes to sea.
Heng Siok Tian
Heng Siok Tian has six collections: Crossing the Chopsticks and Other Poems (1993), My City, My Canvas (1999), Contouring (2004), Is my body a myth (2011), Mixing Tongues (2011), and Grandma’s Attic, Mom’s HDB, My Wallpaper (2021). She also writes short stories and plays. In 2000, she was a Fellow with the Iowa International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, on a National Arts Council Fellowship.
Economics of mind
(in a time of pandemic, 2020)
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
Add to cart: I click,
swipe, tap, click: add to cart.
A paradise gained online
when there are voluminous choices;
when vendors offered options, stressors,
lost in my mind’s paradise,
is my hand a dragnet in a wild wide web?
My cart gains items,
I gain weight,
my head burdens,
I own more of everything except
certainty and space;
I lose currency
From my deep dark web,
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want,
seeking my lost paradise
where five loaves and two fish suffice.
"Economics of mind (in a time of pandemic, 2020)" previously appeared as "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want Psalm 23:1" in Grandma's Attic, Mom's HDB, My Wallpaper (Landmark Books, 2021).