Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
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From Anger to Forgiveness

When boys are young, they look everywhere for Him—the man above men, the progenitor of love and arbiter of death. His story is transmitted through myths old and new, through the gaze of others, through the language and institutions that constitute the landscape of reality.

What these myths do not tell you is that when you find Him—and if you look hard enough, you will find Him—He will hurt you. For the defining feature of this figure is neither strength nor wisdom but a fear so profound that He will need to replicate it in you and in every person He loves.

My story is not exceptional—it sits among millions just like it in the dual engines of patriarchy and white supremacy that perpetuate themselves endlessly. As a quiet, sensitive, Taiwanese American boy, I felt to be lacking in manhood everywhere and so sought validation in other men. When I found Him, He promised me entrance into manhood. And he promised to take care of me. It took me many years to see the emptiness of His offering and the cost of my reverence.

“exercise in keeping it all in” speaks from the rage of a boy recently disillusioned by His false promises of love and acceptance. It stages the Oedipal drama by which the boy violently usurps the man—the coconut which the boy watched Him break so many times has become the boy’s weapon, his lost innocence now the source of his pain. In part II, the anger dissipates, revealing a child seeking acceptance.

“Self-Portrait,” written at least three years after “exercise in keeping it all in,” tries to rescue the speaker from the cycle of violence and anger that He set him on. As such, the poem attempts to exorcise the speaker’s wound, to separate him from His image, to cast him in a new light, to love him the way he wanted to be loved.  

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