Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Winshen Liu


What a shame

    i count the faces in birth order
eight sisters in color 
          at this point they get

progressively more beautiful
    my mother is the eldest

    i knew they were beautiful before 
i knew what they were 
          called my mother often

said she would take me to get surgery
    so that i’d be click – gorgeous!

    high school was a diagram of metals screwed to
bone i would have asked for 
          this if i wasn’t afraid instead i jumped

a hundred times in the basement for
    a hundred nights my mother

    still cuts my hair to save
money she has used
          the same scissors on me

for thirty years the neighbors couldn’t conceive
    how precious their gift

    would be when my mother took it
across the ocean my youngest aunt taught me how to cut 
          skin tape into half-moons and stick them

on my eyelids first thing in the morning they should double
    like croissant folds by mid-afternoon

    when i was eighteen we were
in a booth waiting for hamburgers like the movies
          my mother said look how it helped all

the pinching she had done on my nose you wouldn’t
          believe how flat it was after

    a haircut my hair becomes secondhand
handmade necklaces i cannot unclasp for months
          i touch the ends frayed like threads a dog gnawed 

the way people pick at scabs by the time i started
          college stores sold precut stickers one winter

    break i used them daily until i woke
with triple lids when my grandmother looked
          at me for the first time

in eight years the first thing she said was
          what a shame.



樹葬 (shù zàng)

You always flossed and wore collared shirts.

Did you know the ash would be white?

I expected the gray of attic labels and alley cats,

that the urn would open and pour out

the earth like shavings –

                                                                      but it was lustrous.

Burned into stardust, sun sand and 

moon banks, front teeth and fresh 

paint, magician’s wave and cuff links.

                                                                      I will burn paper money for you.



Lento Notes

Grief is the Easter Moon lily that blooms in

an empty room. It is not the canyon

glowing, like the inside of a persimmon torn

open by thumbs, but all of the hours, and

only ever those hours, waiting for that glow.

I burn my tongue on a scallion pancake

and grief makes me take a second

bite. At the end of autumn, it sheds the lento notes 

of a nocturne you’ve never heard, that I wanted

to play over the phone but didn’t, for fear 

it would send you to sleep.




Author photo courtesy of author

Winshen Liu studied anthropology and computer science and has worked in non-profits, education, and tech. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Baltimore Review, Brink, Gordon Square Review, Ninth Letter, and RHINO. She currently lives in Chicago. More from this author →