เข้าใจ (kaojai) //
to understand, lit. to enter the heart (n.)

“เข้าใจ (kaojai)” is a speculative semi-autobiographical prose poem—a wonderful amalgamation of literary forms—about the life of Max, the work’s writer. In writing the poem, I wanted to interrogate ideas of my selfhood: who I was as a person, and how that might be summarized in the form of journal entries. A few drafts in, I found that I was instinctively adamant about rejecting my complex personal history. It was through surgically replacing tragic events with constructed scenes that I could reveal an autobiography, a poem about an understanding of the self, that represented me. So, I incorporated speculated memory inspired by various media—a 2016 BBC article about twins, a scene from the Netflix TV series Heartstopper, a conversation I had with my boyfriend about Greek statues—to construct a queer, playful autobiographical poem, in which both Maxes, the writer and the poem’s voice, could equally inhabit the joy that a fulfilling life can bring.

  1. On 19 September 2028, Max receives a passport from Singapore. The passport is red. It shows a lion and tiger presenting a Singapore crest. The way the two felines longingly gaze forward with their paws gripping the placard reminds Max of the afternoon-long prize-giving ceremonies that they attended. Max had a lot of trouble putting on ties as a 10-year-old. When Max wants to travel, they retrieve the newly minted book from their dresser, where they also keep their underused eyeshadow palettes. Before leaving, Max would flip to the first page to ensure that their face still looks the same as the profile photo taken years before, with their windswept hair shiny, their cheeks plump and red-ripe, and their lips slightly curved in an awkward smile. Once, they were a bit self-conscious when the airport staff said, with an undertone of dread, that they’ve slimmed down, as if Max was already partway out of this world. Max knew the staff did not mean any malice, but they wanted to ensure that anyone who wanted to see them and befriend them could see them for who they were.

  2. On 5 April 2018, Max learns the makeup technique known as the contour. Not to be confused with the corset, the contour allows Max to add a shadow beneath their cheeks, to give the illusion that their face is sculpted like a Greek statue. Max does not really want to be associated with Greek statues and their deliberately small penises, but they like how the made-believe shadows appeared to embrace their cheeks with a beautiful flesh-tone colour. To contour, Max would use a specific brush that is shaped like a shark’s tooth to apply a rich brown powder, swiping downwards and blending out, an elegant darkness radiating from an imaginary hollow. Max seems to find themselves physically existing in that space, like an in-between stage of sinking and soaring. Going nowhere but having a clear direction. Soon, Max would be fascinated with colour again. But, for those short days, Max would find themselves immersed in a body of contrasts.

  3. On 26 January 2042, Max discovers they have a long-lost twin who migrated to an English-speaking country in his childhood. When Max met him for dinner at a decently pricey Middle Eastern restaurant, Max did not realise the similarities they shared. Despite being identical, he looks nothing like Max. He is about the same height, but stood taller, broad-backed and broad-chested. He got his teeth fixed so he has a beautiful smile he describes as a “lady killer”. He has a Southeast Asian wife and fathered two beautiful girls from an emotional distance as a computer engineer. He tells Max he wasn’t particular good at Math in school, but he found this guy who hooked him up with his first job and he has been posting on LinkedIn so he has a somewhat decent career. He is wearing a bomber jacket, white shirt, and tapered jeans, as if he went to an American high school in the ‘50s and never graduated. His beard grows scruffily around the curvature of his face. Max tells him he never thought the DNA bestowed upon him could have created a human so suited for life in this social planet. They were wrong. The man eats his food slowly, watching Max with a curious gaze as the conversation unfolded, their lives splaying themselves out like a road map of missed opportunities. Max tells him that they live in a small apartment with their masculine-presenting partner about 5km from the ocean. After that night, the two would trade numbers but never speak to each other again.

  4. On 10 November 2082, Max would die, surrounded by flowers that would wilt soon after, in a hospital that was not particularly accessible to the people who cared about them. When Max heaves their last breath, the strongest memory that resurfaced was them dancing to a Dua Lipa song in a giant ballroom, their arms wrapped around their partner as their feet moved, uncoordinated, like flat-footed penguins. Behind them, the disco lights painted the ceiling in a ceremonious rainbow as the music crescendoed to a pause. They kissed. Max remembers the softness of their partner’s lips, pressed against theirs, nerve endings smooshed into connectivity like the plugs of a computer. It was probably the sensations of surprise that made Max cherish this memory so dearly. The funeral would be a much sadder occasion. The undertaker would use her delicate fingers to twist Max’s lips into a smile, a pretense that Max was happy when they passed on. But Max doesn’t mind. There are worse things to lie about.

  5. On 6 February 2090, Max’s last book is published. It does so badly at the bookstores that the publisher goes bankrupt. Ten years later, a literary critic researching queer literature from the 21st century picks it up and writes a review that makes the book spike in popularity. A larger, more established press reprints the book and earns enough profit to start a literary charity dedicated to developing more queer writers. But they don’t. The money is stored digitally in a corporate bank account.

  6. On 21 July 1995, Max formed in their mother’s stomach. They don’t remember much of this moment, obviously, but they would later find out from their mother that the doctor thought they were a girl in the womb, because the ultrascan couldn’t detect the penis. As a housewarming gift, their parents bought them a pink blanket into their childhood crib, in a room that would soon be decorated with cheap stickers bought from a nearby market. Max was always very kind to their mother. Her womb, having suffered two miscarriages, must not have been the most comfortable. Apparently, Max would kick much less than other fetuses, as if preserving the passage that allowed them to enter this world. When Max heaved their first breath after the C-Section, they had the cry of any regular baby born to middle-aged parents. Uwah, uwah. Max’s parents probably believed their child was normal then. As normal as any other children in the infirmary were.

Max Pasakorn (he/she/they) is a queer, Thai-born, Singapore-based writer, poet, and spoken word artist. They are one of the founding members of the Singapore-based writing collective /stop@BadEndRhymes (/s@ber). Read more about Max at and follow Max on Instagram at @maxpsk_writes.



A Conversation with Esperanza Cintrón, Maria S. Picone, Managing Editor


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