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Dreams and Divination

I lay my head down on a pillow pilled / with characters, yellow tracks and traces / of the name I was given.

By Xiao Yue Shan
Poetry | Xiao Yue Shan, poetry
February 13, 2018


on peace boulevard some engine thunder sends
stray pavement tumbling, and in the black
dust of travel an ear is put to the ground to hear
the idiolect of footpaths, mineral-old, still
somehow speaking. language pulling knots in
the veins of the city. traffic serving its metronomic,
hypnotic purpose. beijing whose cartography
was modelled after the angelic. from gem-windows
thriving skyward, the dimmed land still gathers up
breath and smoke all in some apparition,
a city in gauze looking almost like heaven. a city
in bandages amidst its own demolition. no one
will ever again say that it’s just like we never left.
what’s left? camphor and paper houses.
the orange light is purple and grey and too-blue.

between the slender courtyard walls it seems
everything is counting on all this being kept
just between us. a carved sparrow trying to fly from
the pear-wood frame before its contractual, imminent
expropriation. a city clerk marries his pen
to the page and two days later mingshan houjie
is smoke and knee-deep in a red rage, ochre
brick broken from walls once laced through with
the scripture of thin broths, secrets, ceremony.
the children born on this ground were always
ancient. their stunning bodies calling backward,
backward, a lineage of soil and clay. here we
buried milk names. here we lit golden bells.
and as the razing rhythms on we lock the doors
that are no longer attached to anything.
at our feet shatters a sparrow’s wings, wide
amidst chipped sprays of chrysanthemum,
toothless eaves, pale tiles scattered like petals.


I lay my head down on a pillow pilled
with characters, yellow tracks and traces
of the name I was given. I sleep
on chinese every night. I speak
dialects inside my head, words strange and
pelagic. words harnessed to a shore. language
that asks for directions back to the main street,
for a second helping, for a mother. there is a child
whose head fits where mine does, upon
cotton worn to silk by years and years
of sleep. I do not know how to speak chinese
that does not belong to the child. I know how
to ask for milk but not scissors. I know how to ask
to be held but not to explain why. I bite down
hard on a word. black sesame word, warm tofu word,
morning words. in the mid-minute before waking
I remember every moment of a dream,
before forgetting.