Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Sarah Lao






Because the body, for its safe passage, 
must be preserved. Because there is a spell 

written to fulfill every longing: thirst & hunger
& the infatuation with one’s embryonic name. 

In another century, grave goods ornament the dead 
in elegance. An ivory comb to align all thread, 

a green amulet to sustain the heart. Under the light 
of a display case, the ceremonial blade curves 

into flint & hieroglyph. I imagine myself opening 
canopic jars & mouths, the slow reanimation 

of our limbs. As the docent lectures, I pass aisles 
of sarcophagi & turn inconsolable. 

I learn sarcophagus originates from the Greek 
for “flesh-eating stone” & I am jealous 

of these painted bodies built to house decay. 
This isn’t a metaphor. When I say I seek 

beauty through symmetry, I don’t mean 
I believe in the repetition of shells. 

Or, don’t hold me when I’m lonely. 
I only want to cannibalize 

my own selfish appetite.



Dream Sequence 

I refuse the color blue when it comes
in voltas. All winter, I dance en pointe

in a skirtless leotard while my mother tuts 
sequences at the barre. What beauty confounds 

the logic of perspective? The imprints of a snow hare
braiding through a white field. Or, why I perform 

in the theatre: for its ribbed balconies, 
heavy velvet curtains. My mother believes 

our history is idiomatic, encoded into the string 
of pearls we hide in a choked drawer. 

The spectacle we make of memory—brilliant, 
accumulating, skeletal. A silver bowl 

replete with peaches, skin darkened 
to a ruddy stain. I feed my mother slivers 

of pulp & pretend the white tights on my legs 
belong to a rococo daughter. Meanwhile, 

the intimacy of glass figurines & doors 
left ajar. Meanwhile, the snow falling 

where it must: in our hands, frigid & ruinous, 
the remnants of all we have yet to inherit.




I am in need of privacy and a new wardrobe. 
Indulge me. There is nothing that style cannot fix. 

Outside, a colony of bees stir with a missing monarch. 
Does that make them more or less of a swarm.

Picnic blankets spread thin over a patchwork lawn 
and summer in America begins and ends 

with a fork in the road. Is it grace that makes me love
or reciprocate love. Once, I went to the evening opera 

and heard the soprano tune her tongue to the pitch 
of an empty wine glass. Once, I fell asleep 

before the television and woke up in a commercial 
for tuxedos. So maybe I loved a boy that smelled

like fennel and ketamine. Maybe I booked a hotel
with a two-star rating just to trash my half-knitted scarf.

There has to be a way for a needle to enter 
without inventing more holes. I should’ve learned

how to crochet instead. I only ever needed 
that one live stitch. 




Author photo by Kelly Ding

Sarah Lao is a Chinese American writer from Atlanta, Georgia. Her poetry can be found or is forthcoming in AGNI, Narrative, Black Warrior Review, and The Georgia Review, among others. She is currently studying at Harvard College, and she tweets @sarahclao. More from this author →