what’s there left to say to someone who’s dying
I wake blurry. My reflection grows moss.
Some days I forget the name
for grandmother: waipo, outside lady. She walks out
of her body and erases herself.
I wish myself clear as glass. Words break
in my mouth when we call, lose meaning, like the shadow of a girl
I climb taller and taller barriers
to observe her teeth. I clean my teeth twice. I used to call every week.
Now I’m busy, I say, I have no spare change in my lungs,
I’ve been searching for a memory
since I left Sichuan. Memory takes on
its own life. I consume the homes it builds,
find my whitepo, afraid
of her English, snag her words to the edge of water.
I eat another page
of the daily newspaper. Always another
hemorrhage of light: blown up
orphans and their sleeping bags. I want to taste more
than one sky at a time.
waipour lingers like breath
on glass, light eating holes in her wings. Red ribbons
on the page. I flicker into shadow. I toss my hair
in the trash.
Up close, I see our family’s habits. Temper is a scene played
over and over. Every night,
waipo slits her throat
to check if she’s still breathing. She sucks herself
into an ocean lit up red,
remembering its body, the feeling of blood
burning down building after building,
ashamed of its rampage,
begging us to stop staring.
The Cherry Trees
I grow up with cherry trees erupting
in the front yard. Mother waters them
like they’re her firing squad, branches warped
into pistol: protection from winding sirens
& shots to bone. One night I hear a cat
cry & think it’s a baby—my eyes struck open,
deciding trees are useless. Then smoke
exhaling right through the skin-leaves. We shut
our eyes, but still leak, dream a name: who to save
when a country drowns? We’re always
in the wrong country. Mother says
never love your mother as much
as your daughters. Remembers how her body
divorced her motherland, how easy it tore
off the family tree. No one wants her back.
No one wants her here. Once, mother cut her fingers,
didn’t notice for days as blood rusted behind her,
& a crowd circled like vultures, ready to pounce.
She was twelve. The peonies tempted
like America, like money soaking on the balcony.
God, they bloomed & bloomed
& bled. She slipped on apartment rails & fell—
her head cracked open, lucky. I bleed
in useless places. All these boundaries,
always breached. Here we are, crossed a sea
to rupture a country. Imagine us loud
enough to rupture. I imagine myself
as a better daughter who coughs up
valleys, casts walls from wounds.
Kidney disease arrived, later. Was expensive.
Now saving is muscle memory. Mother twitches
at the barber, every snip cuts her bloodline.
She says safety is naming strangers
after punctures. This one is a splinter. The last one
was a prick. She knifes herself bulletproof.
As if that’s new. Barrier becomes a name
for guarding ourselves. The trees I watered
never grew, till I looked away.
Photograph of Jenny Shi courtesy of Jenny Shi.