excerpts from forth-coming work


There’s an Art to Everything

after Carl Phillips/ after Kelechi Nwankwoala/ after Brandon Som/

 

 

    There’s an art to everything: How
           my spine carries the way
    my grandmother kneeled head-first
in the Nanjing dirt. My name
is the song my mother sang to me
     when she was dying of thirst –
do you love me?
                   do you love me?
       We carried everything
  on our backs and asked
    our bodies to sing.
   
               I believe all the stories
     of who I was: a boat to
       New York burning into the asphalt
    horizon, my mother afraid
 of the most beautiful
part of her body. A centuries-old
bell in Trinity Church rings and sings
      the same song my mother
   did when she first saw her
hometown books burnt –
do you love me
               do you love me?
      
     I know my mother
does not hear her paper name,
        a soft displacement
  in her voice, sing.
There are some who do not realize
   she is Orpheus. But I have heard
             her in this debt
of language, in the aviary
 of her scarred body.

 

****
 

Idyll

“Idyll” is forthcoming in Best Teen Writing 2016

 

She taught me to arrange the fake bones

in a perfect circle, five year-old fingers

       cradling calcium as if only circles would trap the

moon by white.

This was the summer all the girls in

my class claimed they saw the same ghost,

        the summer of burning tea leaves,

     the summer we listened to bleating radios

sing of panacea. Penumbra summer and her

brother held a 9mm Rueger to the chest,

             pointed and pulled as sliding

      a quarter into the Ruby Diner’s gumball machine.

       Perfect blue, man-made sky, the jukebox

         in the parlor singing staticky Sex Pistols

           and the salt on the fries so sweet, so sticky.

   By September, the black girl’s seat was

       beneath Ms. Koken’s class confederate

  flag and she called it nostalgia.

 

Nostalgia,

 

    and years later, I lay still beneath the

         same willow on the hill’s skull,

the roots now, protruding as a split in

     the lip - and here we buried her

           brother beneath, the dogs ripped

  the skirt off the black girl beneath,

       searching for him and her in the birds that

  fly tethered to this small town’s starred, striped sky.

      Somebody once explained to me the ruthless grip on all

             our necks and yet still,

    I have not learned to control my caked nails

digging through these roots

  searching for the apple of Eve -

   instead carving

perfect tunnels

     into the center of the earth,

learning to sink.

 

   Here, kneel with me,

     I’ve come to apologize to the dirt.

 

 

 

*************************

 

PARABLE

Runner-up for the Patricia Grodd Young Poets Prize from the Kenyon Review

First published in the Kenyon Review Fall 2017 issue

 

Nanjing, China - 1966, Cultural Revolution

 

i.

Peony petals lace the Nanjing streets, ripped in pink dissolve,

And here, my soldier spits the wad of dope from his mouth mindlessly.

And here, he holds the hem of her honeyblue cheongsam silk, counts

the hooks and trails perfect circles as a prophet down her neck. Listen: then soften.

And this is where sin blooms: no wind, no songs,

red trees, no roots.

And this is where names run and rot (the forest renders all things nameless).

And this is where lovers come to sleep, where my soldier, my father,

holds my forbidden mother’s chapped lips,

     Drink

and she pulls

     her blue dress

his black hair

and

their bodies: two pale trees by moonlight.

ii.

My mother used to run like this screaming things only birds loved.

all things the women have abandoned over the years.

Nanjing and my mother drinks amnesia like red wine,

replaces reality with ritalin:

Give her a marker

and she’ll draw you god.

Give her a willow

and she’ll make you a crown.

Give her a bible and    

she’ll make you a mirror.

 

 

iii.

there’s a willow tree across the Yangtze River from my home that will sing you half-curses, half-lullabies.

and a boy who joined the red guards at school told me that my father died underneath

her branches a hundred months before,

the long rope-like-leaves around his neck, nature’s noose.

And he takes me there tonight. Here is your father, the boy shows me, digging bare

nails into raw mulch and pulling something half-human half-deity from between trees roots:

And his eyes were open, perfect circles traced a million times over

opened, arid, dry: no tears for a dead man’s repose.

And the noose cracked his adam’s apple, a thousand year’s revenge from Eden.

And the plaque was foam from the Yangtze River.

And the jade cross around his wrist caught what little light stolen from the moon.

And his skin was so, so soft, so smooth, touching it made our five-year-old hands weak skin feel human.

And his lips are forever ripped apart into a smile.

 

And so the boy took me home into

the long dark night, our small bare feet skipping, fingers interlaced and arms swinging,

swinging.

And we laughed and sang songs - the east is red the east is red

 

Listen: my father’s head is swinging from the tree,

singing songs of lost gods and how good men become good soldiers and blind deities.