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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

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First Line: His hands crushed a lemon
Last Line: That would keep you up all nightó
Subject(s): Food & Eating

The world exists again. The roses drop their petals
from the railing of a ship and we wave goodbye.
An open hand is a hand letting go of flowers
in all their freshness, memory pressed into a diary
sinking to the bottom of the sea. All my life
the sound I've been trying to hear is the sound
of my own voice. I thirst in full view of the ocean
that lies before me. We are not swimmers, taciturn,
sipping tea without a twist of lemon. Outside,
the shadows in the orchard have merged into night.


I cannot help it, going on like this, the windows
turning colder by the hour. Once I was seduced
by the sibilance of tires in the rain while staring
into my coffee at a vacant diner. An oldie
on the jukebox made me cry, not words I never learned
but that voice which took me back to a summer flat
in Taipei, laundry sweating out of open windows.
I was two years old in a tub, Ah-poh singing,
her hands playful as porpoises. I would only cry
if Mother came to finish the job, tepid water
slapping all around as she scoured my genitals.
Whenever I hear a baby scream, I gag its mouth
to keep it quiet, just the way I want it.


When I turned seven, I made Ian lie down
on the bathroom floor, next to a crowded kitchen
where our mothers were rolling meat-filled
dumplings, dropping them into smoking grease.
I hummed a tune to calm him down, unzipping
his pants in order to rescue his penis
from a house on fire, that sole survivor we dressed
in strips of gauze. Later I felt the way you do
when spoiling a gift by unwrapping it too soon.
Still, I got what I wanted by taking on new roles --
a captain, a pirate, a preacher who promised
to forget the whole thing when it was over.
Only Cathy wouldn't shut up, even after I had run
my fingers over the flowers on her underpants
while pinning her down: You're going to have a baby.
Somebody had already dealt another hand
of bridge, each parent holding a fan of cards
with sailboats on them, when Cathy came out crying,
I'm going to have a baby, and to my relief,
all I heard was her voice drowning in their laughter.


I have heard that oldie blaring out from windows
of a passing car, from a beat-up radio lost
in a janitor's closet. There's this church
I would pass on my way to school but never enter.
It's like that, each of us minding our own business,
then one day we are called. Phone soliciting
was not my pick for a first job, but it opened doors:
Hello. I'm with the San Jose Symphony. Subscribe
tonight and win a free cruise. Over and over,
my adolescent echo down a reverse directory
until that voice: Ever wanted a dick in your mouth?
I've learned to say no, but then it was only yes,
yes to those lips moving across the face of the deep.


Sometimes it seems I cry for no reason, trying
to convince myself that I am still here. I draw
a square on my palm and say this is a prison
where we are born. Each day the walls grow more
transparent. The night of Jessye Norman's recital,
we stood up when she sang "He's Got the Whole World
in His Hands" for her final encore, our applause
shattering across the stage like glass roses,
her smile roaring through the hall as she sailed
into the wings, waving goodbye. It was over,
our voices released as if from an old Victrola
spinning on the ocean floor, each of us breathless
in that echo of the lives we have loved and lost.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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