Richard Chiem




On my walk home, a man told me he could see fire in my eyes where there was once nothing, that I no longer looked dead. He said I was out here on the streets looking dead to the world. I knew he knew me because I knew him. I don’t know his name, but I see him every day because we share the same neighborhood, so he’s an everyday familiar face, someone who sees me and I see him, a little before or after the nine to five. I know he’s homeless and a kind man and he’s out here every day, talking to strangers about God. I can see the fire in you, he says.



Repeatedly I watch clips of Damian Lillard on YouTube. I want to see one hundred thousand three pointers being made, and I want to see them coming one after another. I want to see dunks and step backs and people feeling humiliated and people feeling thrilled, superhuman. I like seeing crowds move like an ocean, shot after shot. It gets me going, and I feel absurdly motivated at the right kind of numb. It’s mesmerizing watching the clips on repeat like listening to music. There is the sick beauty to getting lost, to binge watching your consciousness away. Perfect oblivion: a ball goes through a hoop in front of an arena of twenty thousand people, and then one million views.



Sneaking food a little after two in the morning, I eat cake from the refrigerator with my bare hands and quickly rush back to bed, sugar still dissolving on my tongue. I think, I am disgusting. I think, I am stronger now than I’ll ever be.



19 Feb 2016. Damian Lillard, playing in his first game since being left off the 2016 All-Star team, scored his career high, 51 points, against the best team in the league, the GSW Warriors. It was one of only nine losses the Warriors tallied on their historic season.

Watching the game felt like revenge. Watching the game as someone who feels ignored felt cathartic as fuck. The best wins come from losers and projected underdogs–that is, until the feeling of winning and the return of victory just feel natural with no diminishing high, and it’s as though you can now expect to achieve, and the landscape that once was privileged and high locked away has turned into something new and completely traversable. Snub me, fuck you, here I am.

I watch and analyze basketball games and NBA players and make absurd ties to the struggles of my life. I think about buying all red sneakers. I let the Wu wash over me through cheapass earphones.



Elevate the myth, go a little absurd. Numb the pain with steady and strange ambition. If they sleep on you or forget you, wake them up, make them wake up. Make them feel alive with what you do, your art, sugar, magic, and hard work. Make your cake then devour. Eat your cake with no regard for human life. Eat your cake in any kitchen you can dream of, wherever for whatever scene you can imagine and stay still to enjoy whatever surrounds you. The Stay Still And Enjoy Life part is key.



Although I still bum, I used to smoke almost a pack of cigarettes a day and act a fiend.

Now I hate cigarettes. I had quit for Frances. They get me sick, although I still bum.

I remember first moving to Seattle, there’s a moment that really jars me, and I realize that I often forget that I’m Asian until I am unmistakably so.

A man from New York stands outside Vermillion Bar, smoking a cigarette with two of my close friends. I love my friends and I can feel their warmth. Lush clouds arrive, and they let me into the circle. I try to blow smoke rings.

This man, wearing a nice hat, starts talking about his PhD in poetry and about an independent press he founded. Because I love the game and I play the game, I already know who he is, and I know his press, and I already know what I want to say to him: that I am a big fan. I like his work, I like the books he brought to print.

The man refuses to look me in the eye and only talks with my two white friends until they’re done with their cigarettes. They then enter the bar to leave me and the man alone with our last few drags. I feel as though all the books I have read in the world flow in my brain and bloodstream.

The sun bleeds through the meek clouds, shimmering on the wet pavement, and the man asks me where I am from?

I say, San Diego, and then California, a few times.

When the man persists, almost leaning in, I finally say, “My parents are Vietnamese and Chinese,” and I swallow black smoke. I wanted smoke to come out of my eyelids in front of the bar then. I think about all the steps I had to walk today to get to this bar.

At a reading hours later, I see PhD New York Hat Man again after opening his door, and he still gives me zero eye contact.

Because I love the game and I play the game, I walk around the venue, feeling like fire. There is not a rock that can crush me. I order Rainier at the bar and tip generously. Around the venue, I find my close friends and my close friends find me, and we create something in the ether not unlike buzz and merry.

Name Drop yells my name from across the drunken room and comes over to hug and embrace me. Her face touches my face when she holds me. She has just finished my book, which was just published, and even knowing that Name Drop has read my book brings tightness to my chest, and I wish my heart were not so black I could cry inconsolably and openly in front of her. Real talk, all honor. I kiss Name Drop back on her cheek and bow and walk away to get her a drink.

PhD New York Ass Hat Man has been standing within earshot, and I know he’s heard everything. I see him approaching from around the corner at a speed too late to circumnavigate and avoid. I hate the fucker.

He shakes my hand and wants to get to know me, all smiles. He looks me in the eye.

I buy a whiskey and tip generously, and when I walk home in the rain later that evening, my breath is its own universe. I hum with memory, and I walk as though I am always being kicked all over, and I know I want more.



“I ain’t make the All-Stars, but I’m flu game sick. Last time they count me out? What I do Game 6?”
–Dame DOLLA, lyrics from They Sleep.


Damian Lillard dropped his rap song, They Sleep, two days before his monster 51 point game against Golden State. It references Game 6 of the first round of the 2014 Western Conference Playoffs, when Damian Lillard shot the go ahead three pointer against the Houston Rockets to win the game and the series at the buzzer. The shot in 2014 sent Portland to the second round, a feat not accomplished for fourteen years in Rip City.



If you catch me out on the dance floor, my friends now know I don’t give a fuck out there, and I love dancing. I can’t even keep track of when it happened exactly, what exact moment created a monster, but I know I completely let go out on the dance floor. I can drown in a wave of music. Whatever insecure weird shit that usually happens between me and people, person to person, city to city, for twenty nine years does not exist and has no God for me out on the dance floor. I shake, I bake, I quake with years and years. I am the rock of rocks if I am out there dancing. I can’t feel anything but beats and beats and cheap beer.

I know to suffer alone is not an innovation. Poet Ariana Reines teaches me this. When I want to tear the world to shreds, I act a fool before I can get back to a place where I can see how small I am how small my suffering is and how I can use the rain to make lemonade. I make lemonade for the community, the love tax. I fall back to fundamentals and grinding and repeating no validation in my mind over and over again as I work. I bring Cool Ranch Doritos to poetry readings, make eye contact with everyone, and give standing ovations.

There is a great calm that comes from wear and tear, from learning and trying to be a good person. I turn every slight, every snub and rude gesture, into work and harmony. I turn work and harmony into dance, and I turn dance into oblivion. I turn sweet oblivion into novels. I swim down shit’s creek and plan to come up clean with my eyes full of love.