Stephanie Yun

Stephanie Yun is the City of Oakland’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate (2012). A graduate of Skyline High School who is currently attending UC Berkeley, Stephanie has contributed to some of the most significant youth poetry stages in the country as a youth ambassador for Brave New Voices and regular on the Youth Speaks slam poetry circuit. Stephanie is a poet’s poet — the kind that writes out of necessity, the one that writes to live, and more fully. Our state’s poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, calls Stephanie “a breakthrough poet."


Til Death

By Stephanie Yun, age 18

Like wind caressing wayward leaves, he grasps my hands
fearful of letting them return to the earth.
At minimum, my boyfriend
must remind me once every two weeks
that I can't make love to him buried beneath flowerbeds
and that tombstones
don't make proper pillows for survivors of suicide
because as mentally ill as I think I am,
we're supposed to wake up side-by-side on a Tempur-Pedic someday.
In distress, my body
contorts itself into the C-shaped helix of an ear
and he holds his chest up to mine like a seashell
telling me I'm beautiful;
It almost drowns out all the reasons I think he should leave me
Before my first and current relationship,
I wondered how potential suitors would react
when their fingertips wandered and read my wrists like Braille
Here lies emotionally unstable girl
Would their hugs become like straitjackets
or in a box of belongings
would they take back every "I love you" they ever said
I trace self-inflicted scars like thumbs across smart phone touch screens
estimating how long it'll be til I break
Then who will want me,
besides clinical trial sponsors looking to sell antidepressants
like mobile apps
As if born from the ocean,
he asks why I apologize for crying so much.
He casts lifesavers fashioned from pinky promises
assures me that everything will be okay
gets worried when I don't respond
and turns my chin towards his face
waiting for words like tap water
that remain trapped in clogged rain gutter throat
because he gazes into my eyes like crystal balls
and claims to see a future together
Everything may be fine as I speak this
but I've envisioned dream wedding
in the spring
wearing tulle or lace ball gown
with three-tiered chocolate cake
fewer times and in less detail
than my suicide
Since eighth grade,
depression has rammed my head against mirrors
using my face as a dishrag
so I can feel the ugliness of my reflection
Insist I'm not broken
when you've seen how quickly I forget why you love me
You may think we're a match
but I'd rather let you leave now
than watch your charcoal hair turn to ash
as you burn yourself out
in attempts to fix me
realizing that you can't
But the last time I visited you,
I saw you cry for the first time.
You offer gentle smiles like umbrellas at the sight of teardrops
but looked at me through glossy, red-rimmed marble eyes
while we waited for my bus at the Amtrak station
It was the first time I realized that you needed me
We're gonna go on a picnic at some point.
Pack whatever I know how to make
and get lost in a forest where the trees look the same
because he follows the compass inlaid in the palm of his hand
that point to my wrists, marked like star charts
He accepts that this is part of me and doesn't flinch or fear getting hurt.
He collects memories like flower pollen
and molds our laughter into honeycomb
calling it home.