Summer now. We miss time, forget to sleep. City-glint hurtling
through mountain and cow country, lights distant
as pink moons. The ceiling fan lops off
the ends of words. Landmarks named by the lines
of my bare feet—saguaro, prickly pear cacti, spray
of chickweed. Brother asks why a comet doesn’t hit
already, why we don’t take a rocketship
to the moon. This place is a drive-thru.
I give him my last butterscotch
to hold on his tongue, escape sliding into the gutter
thick and fast. Even as he says he’s dying
to get out, come August, the two of us will still stalk
the road, picking pearls of salt
from under fingernails. We make magic with a deck
of cards, prop our feet on the kitchen ledge.
Mama stirring gumbo, sinking cherries
in a gallon of liquor. She sighs
when she sees us. My brother and I, always waiting
for something more. Moths shudder out
of the streetlight like goldenrod.
Across the cul-de-sac, the neighbor feeds potatoes
to crows. Piece by piece. Dollar bills tacked
to her fridge door, puckering
under my gaze. Not enough
for exodus, for deluge. For anything, really.
We wait, jammed to the window, fingers
pressed to dusk, our breath
on the white-chip glass.
When We First Came to America, They Told Us to Look for Birds
thistle under claws,
from the window. when we first came to America, they told us to look for birds. millions of wings if only we could see in the dark.
graceless english like wild grasses in her mouth. cataracts
of iridescence, the color of flight.
she listens to the night put on war paint
and wings: flinch & wheel, briefly alight.
on TV I watch
children in tshirts
& hairclips, sitting at rest stops.
I press my face close to the screen: floral print skirts, fruit trees,
traincars. in the other room, mother pauses.
foreign language of calf-skin & wire.
without looking, she knows
their eyes are red-rimmed from searching.
the desert silent, blown over by weeds.
my home, silent
in two octaves. I am learning to listen. to say any word
bird’s wings that bend
at three joints: three lives where I survive the taunts
and not the girls by the road. saffron
of skin. road signs tilting on metal sticks, orange buoys
like sliced clementines. every day leads to night
& we cover our eyes.
mother flattens her hand
against my face. 1,000 migrations on the back of her palm,
starlings building nests
between homes they can never reach.
A girl catches a goshawk
with her bare hands.
Hooded beard, hooked lip.
Her wrists slashed,
her eyes rolling upwards,
her white dress.
No, it couldn’t have happened
I couldn’t have walked
to the field behind my house
with a can of lighter fluid.
Couldn’t have touched
gilded bone, hawk’s eye twisting
in its socket.
Couldn’t have eaten a calla lily
at the doctor’s office, put my hand
in the fish tank
for finding a cathedral
in the parking lot, hot asphalt
sizzling into the plastic backs
of my flip-flops. For my prayers
to wild animals, bones of oxen
against my ribcage, feathers matted
to my forehead.
I only taste blood
because I’ve never wielded
a knife. We are only nameless
because we’ve never called ourselves
History in reverse:
the field goes up in flames.
The girl empty
of apologies. Bird of prey,
at the baptism—
carmine of a gash, the goshawk’s
mottled wing. Notes on Hunger
All afternoon the body dreams of doors.
Curvature of whale’s ribs, the hollowness
inside—fleshy white, skin in flaps.
They say the goddess Nüwa birthed man
from the belly of a fish. Or maybe it was
a tortoise—beak-mouth, dark blue
dredging up old coins. My lips hooked
to the waterline. When I was seven,
I saw my grandmother for the last time.
Still I imagine her hands
instead of Nüwa’s. Still I imagine
my own hands inside a matchbox,
fingers blunted. Stiff paper, paraffin wax.
Grandmother, even my voice
must be hers.
In my dreams, it is always the year
of the horse. Mama spitting papaya seeds
into a mud road. I tell her I want only
a piece of myself: a tributary, a single tentacle,
the edge of an atlas. But when I wake, I am as empty
as ever. Saltwater, more mirror than glass, bones
softened with milk. Even Nüwa does not know
that my ancestors are shaped from clay, even she
cannot imagine such a distant
winter sky. The Lunar New Year thickens
like duck blood soup. I open my mouth
and find mollusks, memory of brine.
Sentences soft as gloaming,
a map between the body
and its history.
Entomology, China Girl
The service breaks. Ants flood
out of the cable modem.
My uncle’s face freezes
on WeChat, taste of Hefei
in the background—a cloud of smog
and oolong, locusts gathering like fever.
(Batesian mimicry: one organism
mimicking another poisonous
or unpalatable one.
The larva in my throat
threaten to spill over, jagged geometry
of my mother-tongue, a language
I have never been able
Mother drags me
to the museum. By the beetle exhibit, I watch
a boy take a selfie. His cheeks
petrified. His glow
-in-the-dark shell, his hundreds
(Indigenous: native occurring.
Featherwing skinny, pale
blonde. A scar on the womb
where I am born with a ruby exoskeleton
and terracotta wing, two names
and no country.)
Someone at school called me Ling Ling,
says my sister.
Crouching outside her window,
I try to trap a lightning bug
among the squash blossoms,
red veins and crumpled legs.
(chóng zi: insect, almost
invisible. Translations on labels,
stretched cellophane like skin
on knuckle, a swarm
metal on my tongue, the tang
of silver skin.)
tell me this land
of sun & sweatshops & no good dialect
is mine tell
me this land of buildings with all the windows
colored red & a thousand
slowly blinking children & no arms
on the clocks is mine tell me
how to be heartless how to be both survivor
& burning bridge tell me all the ways
the sky sprouts shrapnel
& silver screens & gorges itself
on our apologies all
tell me what I am running
tell me where my language
is hiding & why it still follows
my almond-eyed shadow tell me
about the raw bloom
of our bodies & this land that only carries
so much paper
tell me about the lukewarm
& bone cut
& skin deep
tell me about glasses that will never stay
on our noses & browned apples
dropping from trees
tell me about sidewalk cracks
& loose change
& how nothing fits
or maybe was never meant
tell me I can swallow
all that the land whispers—
it pretends it has never
it cannot even remember
but still I can taste
the soft light that touches
I can still taste
the morning, everything
I left behind—