Five Poems

by Jake Vermaas

"I See You" by  Gina Sipin  |  ISSUE THREE

"I See You" by Gina Sipin | ISSUE THREE

first fruits

for lolo

“Aquí, en mi ciudad de sueños,
I missed the parades this week.
Maré, forgive me, for
I closed my eyes instead.”

– excerpted from
Poeta en San Francisco
by Barbara Jane Reyes



what does it mean
to unknow the Maine
to unremember what it
made      how it
made me


yet they’ve already
forgotten     don't know
about some sweaty whatever
in the islands for say     a great lark
pale sallow eyes    tried to buy
my sister was ten      at the
time         when we were
back in Angeles
visiting family


it made the flight
back     to the States
a quiet      raw knuckle
stare out a window
feeling like some
failed ally


we never talk
about what happened   to
Uncle Bong   during
Martial Law


photos of your
Jesuit nephew   Father
Ted   on that barricade at EDSA


or how Isabelo del
Rosario’s last harana   a
danza habanera de Filipina       hung
in the air before the violin
smashed on his Yankee
gallows in the town
of Mexico.


Mexico town
where your best girl Rose
& her cousin had to hide under
the closet when the Imperials
came sniffing around
for the girls, always
for the girls.


we never talk
about what happened


Rizal & his boys
called themselves    los
indios bravos    to reclaim
the slur after viewing a human
zoo at the World’s Fair
in Paris & the valor of
the plains tribes
on display


& a few years
later     at the expos
in St Louis & Portland
villages captivated, some
“dogeater tribesmen”
newly civilized.

we never talk

but i

i am alive       & none
of those

[untitled, ghost town]


In the       distance      some sunken
ship or           sagged in           roof of
an old barn            held up          with
a grin         crook’d in        an empire
of         dirt, past           dates a faded
        gravestone held          steep ass
gravel switchbacks        we traveled
as kids      lola pressed       into
rosary  duty                 till we arrived     
in Silver City                        thumbed
under        decades’              lifeboats
to a trip                   she didn’t think      
we’d survive but        tried          

Later, other          roads      towards
writing      or   nailed
up gold or         conestoga      stops
in reverse             our young heads
swiveled       to pan         like water  
          cannons  &  take            it all
in:        wonder &      horror
tailing ponds               canyon jags
a half-          buried            (you, not  
from around         here
)   axe handle
        the whine   saloon          door
hinges made in           the evening
we high-            tailed        between
seam              & orange              sky,
peeled           like                      white  
paint                   past   a
            bleached                           gap
left           to crows &             ghosts
    laundered                a gone age.

finding parking near herbivore, 2003

another wrong way down a street
another wrong time in a     place
when these arms once enclosed
the shivers of a small night bird.

so this        that year-old quote
perched on the shifter like a
spirit       this is how it—      it was

the only sensible thing      to
forget     yet my hands arms
and eyes they tried   but are

not   sorry to not     forget.
and i thought    someday
we’d find our way back

Moloch / for the Foxconn worker who dropped out and wrote poems (Xu Lizhi)

there is
not much
Poetry  produced in
the factories — mostly
serious consequences
for being

as for me, i think of a dozen
lucky years    on guard    over & 
above  the call of oppenheimer's     
spoiled brood    
                    would be world-
destroyers & their irradiated
offal, the reactor and burial
grounds      w/ a meter
smashed in my skin (on
loan) to measure exposure.

last year    my kid brother
a child of few words     not
really my brother       looks
nothing like me        all
spindly  arms & legs    like
his grandfather 

escaped for a time   to his
family in the country      chased
after his girl           chased after
words         without ending   & at
last, exhausted
                       went back
to the plant/city      spinning
widgets      pocket TVs     & other
orphan roe          bunk      packed
tight            in a matchbox.

do i miss it?     (or her)

maybe not        but the spaces      
in between        our matter    
colliding           chain reactions
in the dark         a burning
of an impossible      chimera
baptized in sweat        & soft
rains which may yet      come

half-living in           a half-life.

i am with you in Rockville
i am with you in Richland
i am with you in the new Ellenton & the old
i am with you in the Four Corners
i am with you in the Bikini-shaped craters
i am with you in the City of Peace and of Oleander
i am with you in the City of Dutch Learning
i am with you in all the downwind counties.

one day he cashed
one last check         leaned in
& out to embrace  the sky & 
mostly silent       tiny
screws on the factory floor.

when i want to hear from
my brother i      unhinge my jawbone     
   cough out
fireflies   (& this is about waiting) 
for their Company    to light up
the night       to mark up       & unearth
& purge      the loaded silos     & all
the loose leaf        that sits


city of crees

after Natasha Trethewey

Did I really discover a trapdoor to the tunnels, my last summer in Idaho?
Work was the Egyptian Theater, not the original in LA but one in Idaho.

In between films and swept popcorn we mapped out that old building,
Built near old Chinatown when most towns were sundown towns in Idaho.

Rumors always said some tunnels still crisscrossed old downtown
A relic of a route home for      “Orientals” stuck after dark in Idaho.

When we were younger gramps taught us casino, let me clomp around
in shit kickers too big for my feet’s first decade, not even a cowboy in Idaho.

After that snowball fight in interesting times like the fake Asian curse,
My sister stopped wearing her hair in braids like Sacagawea in Idaho.

A catholic boys’ choir echoed a chant   about mongrels   with my old
Man’s last name but mutt instead, lettered jackets black and gold in Idaho.

I loved how the good books could supplant the stories that came before;
I’m a Vermaas like the river — not what you said — and not the one in Idaho.


Writer's Bio:

Jake Vermaas is the co-founder of the Whitenoise Project, a reading and discussion series aiming to center writers of color and underrepresented voices. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Anthem, the Nashville Review, Gramma Poetry, and Capitalism Nature Socialism. A poet and engineer in Portland, OR, he can science the shit out of things and actually be Asian, unlike Matt Damon.