On Joseph O. Legaspi
One of my fondest memories of talking with Joseph is the first time—at the Kundiman Writers Retreat, in the summer of 2014. I’d picked Joseph as the person with whom I wanted to have my one-on-one mentoring session because his book Imago had blown me away, and because I wanted to hang out with a fellow queer Asian American writer. At the time, I was in the middle of my MFA program at Syracuse, which was great in so many ways, but definitely lacking when it came to writers of color (in the curriculum as well as in the classroom), and especially when it came to queer writers and Asian American writers—and that seemingly total unicorn, the queer Asian American writer. I was the unicorn and I was tired. So, I was thrilled to get to talk with Joseph. (And actually, I got to meet several other queer Asian American writers at Kundiman that year, and again in 2016, and again and again in Kundiman-sponsored spaces.) Much of what I remember from my conversation with Joseph is my pure giddiness. Is this what it feels like, when you no longer have to explain the basic fact of your existence? Is this what it’s like, no longer being a unicorn? Or being a unicorn among other fabulous unicorns?
I also remember the boys, the college boys playing—football? I think?—across from us on one of the gorgeously green Fordham University lawns. For several years now, the Kundiman Retreat has taken place at the Rose Hill Campus of Fordham University in the Bronx. I love this campus, mainly because of my Kundiman-related memories. On this particular day, I loved it even more, because Joseph noticed my looking at the college boys, some of them gloriously shirtless, and with deep sympathy said, “Ah, yes. Very distracting.” At least, that’s how I’m remembering the moment; again, I was giddy, already so happy just to be sitting with Joseph outside, in the sun, feeling completely in tune with my own body, the fact of my existence. Maybe I brought up the college boys myself, “Oh, look—” Maybe Joseph did. What I remember is checking them out for a moment together and sort of nodding to each other like, Yep, this is what it means to be a poet. Desire. Noticing beauty and movement. How the grass seemed to give off its own light. What tall and nonjudgmental witnesses the trees, looking at our looking, the boys’ playing.
On my nightstand now is Joseph’s new book, Threshold. I keep returning to the following lines, the final stanza of the poem, “My Mother’s Suitors”:
It is astonishing what sustains a person,what we live on, how my mother has blossomedwith age, as she savors her secret history.I can’t help but envision her by a window,leaning into the night as her serenading suitorsgather below her, surrounded by sampaguitas,luminous children in moonlight.