by Michelle Lin
I Walk the Papers to the Basket and Do
not place them in, our sucked breaths and photographs of someone else’s hands and you
understand. I walk the papers to the basket and do not drop them in, or any
of our fumblings of all the baskets to emerge quick things with too many fingers.
The baskets themselves ragged down like mother’s hands in the yard bruising
a chicken of its bones. I walk to the basket and the stupidity of this kitchen of my own making, as if breaking inside it would make me her. I do not place them in,
have lost dishes and never children. I walk the pieces to the basket
and place them back in her hands. I walk the baby to the basket and do not
put me in. I walk. There is a pain
in the hole in the center of my ankle. In the ankle of my center, there is
a walking. I place the photo, you understand her hands. The burning is
a hole you put your eye right up to. Right up against the image to see through. A bird, a bird
was already dead.
My Train Chugs This City
It’s one lone thread of a flag and one man
wrestling someone down into the street.
What’s a fair fight anyway? Even my jaw
from time to time has been lined with
silence or astonishment—both states
of being beetling their way into my heart.
I have written stupid things for love.
The ghost misted my cheek too in blood and I
was careful not to look so I could easily forget
their name. I stepped over to find my lover—
all I wanted was to kiss him. Out of this
were my losses clean and I sat hungry
in all of them. Consider the train lover,
how he refuses too to love the ghostly golden
fingerprints that labored all his steel. Or,
the smoke-white heart chugging itself
across the lovely frontier. For years, I drew
one long track along the pale page,
taking the pen too from my ancestors
when they looked the other way. The track
ribbed bare sees the life of a thousand stars
dead at my feet. It is the color of freedom,
all tunnel and all mouth, the last light
man-made and swallowing. Dirty line ringing
on the ground, naming each crook
at each branch damp conceptual bird, crying
through native country like a useless crook.
My lover lifts his pen too on the train and already,
you’d like to make this a site of love. For love,
we’d overthrow the government—but then
there are diamonds and papers and such pretty things.
A child plays with a dark toy train and you turn
to your love. Your lids kissed closed as
the police draw their guns. Lips wet your knee
as knees hit gravel. If you think your tongue
is a hummingbird, then there is too much
nectar in this world you think you’re meant
to hold. Our train drags the longest, ashiest flag.
All you want is to kiss him.
The duck underwater, the lungful of air
in its chest and through its feathers like a coat
is what keeps it dry. The sky’s memento
in its wings for it to return. Shorebirds then,
have found this balance of loving in all the elements
and dying equally in all of them. How many birds die
at sea, how many in the air, how many on land? In between?
The chalkboard in the missionary's hut as the crucifix
glints at her neck as the child recites duck, duck.
There are no tones written into the English language
thus harder to pin down intent. And why English
speakers when speaking Chinese sound like a train
careening off its rails. Sounds like a train, but simply
off the tracks and out of control. It doesn't make sense
to begin with a duck and end with a train but here we are.
And tomorrow I will go to the fall that hits the ocean.
People hike for miles to see something to call beautiful.
I will be by the water in the water with the water.
There is nothing the duck can touch that I cannot.
This song is the same song that has drawn whole
countries in blood. Always this close to it.
Most days I forget the moon exists
and how half my dresses are borrowed
from my aunties with their overbuying
and overtalking and forgetting
everything else. Most days I forget
I am small. And the last bites I leave
on my plate, just in case. And the lipstick
smudged on the inside of my collar
each time I take off my clothes. In old KTVs,
it’s proof that a spouse is cheating on you,
but here I am having an affair
with myself, when I take care
of everyone else before I take care
of myself. I forget that hope
is the scariest thing. I forget I am capable,
arm’s length from a many-legged thing,
for railing it to die. I forget my own buggy existence,
how I leave incandescent selves, here there
I forget dour fish cheeks at silent dinner tables
and how this was not the face I had wanted.
I forget my grandfather’s last autumn
of old spoons, the desert its rust made
of my hands. And the overturned possum
and the metropolis of maggots beneath,
I forget there is more life in decay.
Last summer, last year, we mapped joy
in the dying bee’s brain, how their wiggle
dance was akin to ours.
Forget foolish proofs for life.
I pack the last box into the last truck.
I undress and kiss the inside
of everything they have given me.
Michelle Lin is a poet, community arts organizer, and author of A House Made of Water (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017), a lyrical examination of Asian American identity, gender and sisterhood, the inheritance of stories, and survival from trauma. More at: michellelinpoet.wordpress.com