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Banished

You find me lecturing mice in the weeds
from the entrance of your home,
the spirited door an unspeakable fire.

I am practicing your wishes,
practicing the vetted words.

You shout, “What an obedient fortress you have!”
and I have but only the highest order sent from your death.

My ears doubling in the clouds,
my kitchen knives spread out
like extended fingertips.

“We are out of rice!” I chant to the mice.

In the woods of Ohio you find me
not in Ohio.
I eat someone else’s tomatoes,
remember fried tofu and the belly
of someone’s missing daughter.

You swear you’ll find me again,
“if nothing else by your dead mice friends!”
Sweet mother, your tongue so sharp.
I nick two to four fingers.

 

Trials in the Winter

In the cloister where you are held perpetually captive, the armor does not suit you.
Living chainmail produced from the forces responsible for your death and a shield
of your own hide. Brother why I have come to rescue you? Snow will not cloak your eyes.
Flowers wane. Luminous in the Republic of the Dead, even comets make the long, weary exit.
O whose chant do I hear in these halls recalling my deeds, or my debts, the structure
of the cancer room, a storm that once wiped Laos clean of sin a thousand years ago?
O brother who sings? In the old country, the only temples left resemble western gods,
their sculptures borrowing bone and tissue from diseased animals, cluster bombs for heads.
Do we or do we not bow to the west, then? And how are you still ill? Did Buddha return you?
You are poor as I am poor though I have made remarkable contact with my body.

 
 

Khaty Xiong is the author of Poor Anima (Apogee Press, 2015), which holds the distinction of being the first full-length collection of poetry to be published by a Hmong American woman in the United States. She’s held the Nadya Aisenberg Fellowship at The MacDowell Colony and an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. Her work has been published in Poetry, The New York Times, How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology, and elsewhere.

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