Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Kristin Chang






______for my great-grandmother in Nanjing, 1937

I hound my own hands, pry them
______from prayer. Give me a body

new to belief, a girl to debone
______with my teeth. Give me

a bouquet whiffing of spent
______blades & I’ll braid night

a noose, stitch a veil bright
______as skin. Today I gather rain

in my gutter-length hair, I
______salt the soil & grow back

my knees, my god’s name
______is grief. The way a tree

measures its years in thirst
______I sever a limb for each

man I wish fathered me:
______today it’s the priest, salt

colored beard & a choir-bruised
______song I’ll disown from my mother

tongue. In bed with another
______man’s daughter, I seek her side

like a spear, I hook out
______both my eyes. I play loose

with loss, can’t undress
______without first burying myself

to the neck. I’ve got no mouth
______for myth. Watch me revise this

woman into a windchime
______I wear between my thighs.

Morning publishes my bed
______as bloodstain. At birth, my mother

nicked off her nipples
______so I’d never be fed

a future. She buries my teeth
______in the backyard & I search

on all fours, hold
______my own leash & a blade

as chaperone. I’m the bone
______shunning its born shape, I’m the lisp

of light no sun can pronounce. A daughter’s
______tongue tautens to bowstring. I finger

the fletched arrow, my furring
______breast. My history shot full

of plotholes. In this one, I live
______as a river god & water a wife

from mud. My mother taught me
______to pay every body of water

before crossing it. What she threw
______into the sea: one penny, both her legs & a baby

bulletholed. To come
______to this country, I kiss

the breasts of a statue & stone
______my body to the bone. I pledge my neck

to every knife, every woman
______I sang out of the water’s

widowed mouth, how
______I repay my gods by never

dying how I’m told, never
______asking to keep the body

born already sold.


In Pine Bluff, Arkansas

my mother walks seven miles
______to the grocery store. a white

boy in a truck throws an egg
______in her face & it fries, yoking

her skin to sunlight
______a yellow that oils

you flammable. at the grocery store
______my mother miscounts her coins

& the cashier says chink
______bitch. all my mother’s best

insults are animals: cow, cock, spineless
______fish we fry in our mouths. we spit bone

into cake batter. we ruin
______birthdays, sing in accents, slay

anthems silent. god the streak
______of blonde in our hair. my mother

says she can’t believe
______we live with animals.

when the rain hums
______a hymn on our roof,

we dance. we sip
______storms. my throat

opens like an umbrella
______& I swallow stone

fruits. my mother spends
______hours in a field, bunching

grapes into fists. we get
______a break on slaughter day.

some animals bred
______for meat & others

labor. in this country
______I am both

the piglet & the butcher’s
______hook it was born for.



So many mothers ago, I married
into myself. I am bride & groom

of my mouth wedding
my mouth. I eat men

who want me & drink sinks
of knives. Like any good wick

I wear a gown of wax. Like any good
wife I water my waist like a vase

of wasps. Zip me into the fireplace
& I’ll warm to you. Smoke becomes me

becoming your sky. In another life, my body
is only what you put inside it: steam

swords & mirrors, a magician’s scarf, every trick
disappearance. A mouth is only as big

as its prey. In second grade, I still
could not pronounce my name. Kristin came out

Christian, my body rhyming with no
belief. In second grade, the boys

locked me in the bathroom, said I’d be
let out if I could say bathroom. In my mouth

it was bat room, night thick
with wings. Kristin, Christian

chink: how I learn the name
of the meat is not the name

of the animal. If cow is beef
I am butchered. I am pounding

on the bathroom walls & the pipes
burst into birds. A puddle of piss

arranges itself in the shape
of my thirst. Eleven hours

later, I drink. I don’t mistake
survival for song, kneeling

for prayer. I beg to be let out
of my mouth.

Like god, I have
no name but the one

you never wanted
to learn.

K-Ming Chang / 張欣明 is a Kundiman fellow and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is the author of the New York Times Editors’ Choice novel Bestiary (One World/Random House, 2020), which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her short story collection, Resident Aliens, is forthcoming from One World. More of her work can be found at More from this author →