Karen An-Hwei Lee


Nonce Ode to an Oxymoron

How could I ever love such a contrary figure of speech?

Say we never vowed ourselves to a neurosis of nonce verse,
                 of fever chills or brazier darkness.
Say we drove to a landlocked shore, rolled up our windows at night,
listened to the bright surf pounding cold and black in the wind.
Say at a tropical storm’s landfall we lashed ourselves to blindness
or ate skinned tilapia fillets in a cantina
sans canteens, only brightening shades in a triangular square
                           once a dead man or woman’s living quarters—
say this man and woman once were us, eating out of bowls
of seafood paella, of lax jade mussels from a mobile stand.
And you wondered aloud,
           why not food of the sea to avoid potential ambiguity
                       about nourishing the ocean or vice versa?
Dear oxymoron, my beloved, you embody nothing apart
                 from contradictions or incongruities
as the words tourniquet and sobriquet do not rhyme.
           Say beet after beet rolled on our unsown garden
after we labored, post-storm. Say we ate the darkest moonlit ganache
on the grass and never argued—say, whether it was
a flourless chocolate torte or flat cacao round. Say we tossed dishes
of dogged catfish dispassionately with feline zeal.
Let us say it—love pervaded everything we said or did—reedy stanzas
               of unfixed antistrophes—of hand-torn melodrama
the brackish color of misery. Say we loved each another even
                                             if we could only say its opposite.




Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008), and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004). Lee also wrote two chapbooks, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe 2002) and What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press 2014). Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series, published in New York and London. Currently, she serves in the university administration at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle.