Once, Papa bent over my childhood bed,
￼his hands blooming a lake
￼the width of a girl’s cheek warmed by summer.
￼I was hospital-blue & the soft membrane
￼between his knuckles were speckled with pinpricks
￼of white without them moving, this once. The quiet
￼inside them as they opened & shut, iterations
￼of every miracle possible before dusk. Now
￼Papa’s voice, soft as if someone, somewhere, was asleep.
￼I’m sorry, he said. You don’t understand.
￼It’s like something takes over me. It’s true.
￼It’s true I learned the English word for strike firsthand
& the backs of his palms were damp again.
Sayang (noun): dear, love
The bicycle tongues a plump hill, warmed by the weight of some daughter-shaped
thing fresh from her father’s steadying clutch. Months from rasped knee & shriek,
decades still from becoming the echo of a single turn in deep sleep, there is a man at
the bottom of this slope, at the end of my shadow. There is the field behind him,
steeped with indigo-red fever. There are his arms holding the sky apart. He’s grinning
because there’s no reason not to⎯because my life stretches before me & he’s in it.
￼Once, Papa killed the world’s smallest bird, which is why
￼Mama used to say a fuse was just the threat of too much light.
￼We have to keep it, he said, because it’s hurt.
￼For two scant days it lay in a fish tank cross haired
￼with thin wire, echo to the guppies, terrapin, & turtle
￼once adored & now somewhere after bone,
￼somewhere without eyes. Their brief bodies, each a gasp
￼& then gone. & as if it knew the dangers of hard love
￼the sparrow shredded hours for a sky just out of reach,
￼so afraid of becoming a name it was ready to die for it.
￼The shriek of an animal deboning itself for flight.
￼The shrill of living close enough to air to vanish.
I remember living inside that sound.
￼￼￼Sayang (verb): adore, love
￼Sheathing cards in a battered suitcase for discovery in hostels of faraway cities, each
￼aerogramme bleeding COME BACK SOON PAPA in clumsy script, breaking our
￼throats on Michael Jackson’s highest notes, belting my arms to a shrinking mango
￼tree, its scent thickening every room into plantation, despite the thin cane & its
￼sudden thrash, despite the bolted gate at midnight, despite Mama’s soundless night
￼weeping, despite the shape of a grandmother hunched over me as a raised hand makes
￼Once, a ravenous thing sheared itself into
￼the shape of a boy. Hunger despite broth steaming in
￼white-and-blue porcelain, clasped like a newborn
￼between two palms. He ducks for one moment beyond
￼his mother’s noodle store & customer swelter, tips
￼the bowl’s mouth to his lips in brief prayer
￼audible only to someone he has never touched.
￼He swears to become a boat bearing more than water
￼& to be a boat that always bears. & so becomes a man
￼who understands love only in measures of vessels,
￼nursing his children on the sweetest morsels of any meal
￼ferried back & forth kitchen islands:
￼you can have it. No, you. No, you.
￼￼Sayang (phrase): [it’s] a pity
￼I wished myself into any season beyond the airport terminal & then watched my
￼father dissolve into just that. His hands, chilled by my hospital-stale cheek, muzzled
￼decades in a single wave⎯then returned once more to the suitcase filled with proof of
￼an old life. Again. His whole body, deft enough to rise into air, paused briefly at a
￼gate made of light. I didn’t know whether to say goodbye or beg to be the telephone’s
￼warble instead so I said, thank you
￼Once, a girl’s blue shadow stretched through light years
￼of night terrors, thrummed into the shape of her father’s arm
￼still tucked beneath her skull, slivered an arrow as she jolted awake—
￼Papa? & his echo, It’s just a nightmare. Come back
￼to sleep, into the dream with her father overlooking
￼a bed large enough for two children not yet caught in
￼the undertow of leaving. Four rabbit-soft breaths breaking
￼the stillness of a flat where no one he knew before
￼has been. Having already teethed a long bridge
￼to dry his limbs on the other side, bellied flags the colour
￼of a body emptying itself, he swears his young will never
￼need to swim. He swears on his only life that
everything they need is right where they stand.
Phoning Home to Tell My Grandmother I Survived a Hate Crime
￼Ahma,亲爱的 / 您好吗? / my beloved / my life’s great joy / yes, something happened
/ of course you can tell / by my voice / who was it that said / the body is the sound / a
wound makes / that we were born / a prelude to cleave / Ahma / did you hear it / a
white woman / mistaking me for dog / feeling behind my teeth / for our country /
discovering only / my mother tongue / blooding deep water / some thief’s trick /
cheap as yellow / skin spits warning / a war cry / I remember / 亲爱的 / back then /
how you robed / yourself in tall grass / & earthed your flesh / how your waiting /
shrunk soldiers’ bayonets / into a single hairpin / muzzling the sun’s eye / how you
watched them / ride the earth / all monsoon season / & thought / even light begins / &
ends somewhere / what more a nation / what more a citizen / I am not / a citizen / I
thought / of you, Ahma / as she warmed / her grandfather’s fists / on Mama’s face / in
mine / planted her feet where / another golden daughter / could someday rise / called
herself a fierce / & terrible god / & she was/is a god / of this city, this land / where our
colour / is browning meat / new leather / good leash / Ahma / 别哭了 / my love I
know / all that water / & my name through it / is the sound of / breathing in reverse /
the audacity of being here / the audacity of being / here / you taught me / the
mandarin word / to bear, 忍 / is written knife / over heart / & the sound of a wound /
ends at the close / of my life