from Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul

by Ryka Aoki


that for every rational number,
there exists an infinite array
of values that do not resolve.

The dead or frightened
housecat. The slipshod dance
of sun and moon. A Shanghai

butterfly splits the baryons
of a faraway nucleus… And you
wonder why I like donuts
a bit too much?

Against infinite
babble, any rational value
is nothing. So nothing
makes sense. Terrifying

to consider this now,
when so many friends have died.

What is true and proud?
What survives the infinite crush
of hidden, transient, lost?



With another November,
the names of trans people
change color and fall.

Mispronounced, sainted,
ceded to anonymous candles,
anonymous flame.

Someone will pledge money.
Someone will start singing.

Some inspired someone will say,
“I think all hatred is bad!
Why can’t life just be good
for everyone?”

Past each favorite cousin,
each favorite movie,
each crisp new résumé…
Past each broken heel

fall wax and remembrance
just for a moment
still warm to the touch.

“She was fierce.”
“An angel on earth.”

I smell carne asada,
hear the #4 bus.

The hole in my heart murmurs yes,
yes, yes…


Stunted fathers. Neglected boys.
Cocktails of hormones,
in stressed-altered wombs.

Healing the village,
speaking with the dead.
Dancing to the heavens
for fortune and rain.

Blessed goddesses, prophets,
mermaids in rainbow
flags and almost-
tenure-track in the new
Queer Studies Department.

Teeth kicked out, jawbones foot-
stomped into sidewalks.

False lashes and fables
entrance another’s ever after.
Lace and illusion entangle the bedpost,

as I rattle my vanity
for foundation, concealer,
the face to a mispronounced name.



She killed herself
the way queer folks do:
Writing of one-horned
aliens, road-rage unicorns…

She killed herself,
the way queer folks do:
Living as role-model, inspiration
to all but what true love knows…

Behind the fishing poles,
there’s a Coleman ice chest,
a Lionel train.

A tiny wooden stool with marks
of Crayola and someone’s baby

I try to pray, yet thirst
only for silence, for sleep.

Lost in the desert, the woman
of water dreams.


Obon, Vigils, Chanukah.

I’ve learned
we used to be healers.
I’ve learned
we used to be beloved.

Vigils, Birthdays, Vigils.

Don’t know
what else I’ve learned,
except we know
a lot of dead people.

Candles, more candles,

more candles, more…


Be yourself?
Sure! Festoon yourself in sideshow sequins,
thrift-store sex.
The world cums, vomits,
locks its children away.

The sales clerk watches too closely.
Your hometown is not your hometown.

Live without apology?
Sure! Have your life debated by experts
you’ll never meet, cast out
by ohana you never knew.

Ask who hides
from family, from womyn,
from the D that the S triggers,
long after the T should be P.

Ask who can visit the supermarket
for orange juice,
salad dressing, and paper towels.

Maybe tomorrow, it will be different.
But today?

Ask why you were born today.

Ask what is good, bad. Ask what is justice.
Ask how eternal truths
should rest so much upon today.



My mother stirs her pot of spareribs
with brown sugar and soy sauce–
with vinegar and regret for a son
who has wasted his life on Lord-knows-what.

No future, no wedding, not even a house…

Steam rises from the stockpot,
like the stories of spices, songs
and all the home this girl will never know

from one who calls gay people “it,”
hearsays immigrants and AIDS,
would disown her firstborn if she knew
what sins her sins had spawned.

That I could tell her how I stir my verse
with Lahaina-girl rhythm.
How in my kitchen, she would know
every pot and pan and spice.

The flesh grows tender. The flavors bind.
Waiting for that moment
just before it burns.

Just before I leave. Just before
another trans woman obliterated
on a Facebook page, or down the street,

or just before my mother’s eyes.


Last post on Facebook:
someone misdialed her number
but called her a faggot, anyway.

Last post on Facebook:
we should all remember her by
donating to someone else’s
nonprofit transgender study.

What is sacred? What is sure?
It is comforting to declare,
“I have always been me!”

But my friends used to call.
My aunty once held me as I slept.

Run. Fall. Flash back to a beating.

As I hold a next drink, next
cigarette, the next stranger’s lies
against my tongue.


The phone is ringing. Do I let it go?

Tchaikovsky litters the asylums.
Dickinson rips the wings
off a Lady’s Slipper orchid.
Thoreau claws, “Where am I?”
in lungs as flat as unfallen snow.

People I promise to remember
forever change the moment they leave.
And every day before.



Who loved? Who bled? Who
recorded the first
words I said? Who read
to shut my careless eyes?

Who said, before they realized
that I could one day be dead

to them, their world, their prayers,
that they’d be with me
no matter where
I went? When was that message

sent? For I’m not
the same person I was then.
And will never return
to that there and then.

No matter how I may or may
not try.




the irrational array
of moments, where
a single rational value
does not resolve.

The cat survives.
The moon recedes.
The sashimi is disgusting,
trendy, delicious, endangered.

People die for what
I am. People insist what I am
has no meaning at all.

Waiting by the windowsill,
with laptop,
a cup of coffee, and a donut,

to be yourself,
you cede yourself
to butterflies, to baryons,
to wind.

And no one to answer,


Ryka Aoki is the author of Seasonal Velocities, He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song) and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. She has been honored by the California State Senate for her “extraordinary commitment to free speech and artistic expression, as well as the visibility and well-being of Transgender people.” Ryka has an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University and is the recipient of a University Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her book Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul was just named a 2106 Lambda Award Finalist in the brand new category of Transgender Poetry. She is a former national judo champion, and is a professor of English at Santa Monica College. Please visit:

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