QUIET LIGHTNING IS

:
a literary nonprofit with a handful of ongoing projects,
including a monthly, submission-based reading series
featuring all forms of writing without introductions or
author banter—of which sparkle + blink is a verbatim
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readings by 700 authors in 100 shows and 80 books,
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sparkle + blink 86
© 2017 Quiet Lightning

cover © Jessalyn Ragus
jessalynragus.com

“Community” by Keith Gaboury first appeared
in a different version in Write from Wrong Magazine
“Tejon Ranch Sonata: 2032” by Benjamin Gucciardi
first appeared in Radar Poetry
“Love Lasts By Not Lasting” by Benjamin Gucciardi
first appeared in The Inverness Almanac
“Border Angels” by Benjamin Gucciardi
first appeared in Santa Ana River Review

book design by j. brandon loberg
set in Absara

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without permission from individual authors.

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quietlightning.org
su bmit @ qui e tl i g h tn i n g . o r g
CONTENTS
curated by
Lapo Guzzini + Caitlyn Wild
featured artist
Jessalyn Ragus | jessalynragus.com

ADAM MOSKOWITZ This is what it’s time for 1
RAYAN MUSTAFA Fractured Ghazal 3
MONICA JAMES Untitled 5
KATHRYN JORDAN Huipil 7
KEITH GABOURY Community 9
KATHRYN JORDAN I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray 11
MEGAN DE MATTEO Brother 13
KEITH GABOURY I Require A Hug in the
Twenty-Second Century 15
BENJAMIN GUCCIARDI Border Angels 17
Tejon Ranch Sonata: 2032 19
Love Lasts by Not Lasting 20
KATHRYN JORDAN Counterpoints 21
PREETI VANGANI Poems are useless 23
MEGAN DE MATTEO Human Papilloma Virus 25
BRONWYN EMERY The Naked Truth 31
PREETI VANGANI Hate Socks 37
EMILY LUAN Lu Xun’s Wives, Open-mouthed 39
HEATHER KORNBLUM When You’re Poor: 43
FABIYAS M V Living Room 47
MONICA JAMES Untitled 49
J. JAMES KEELS Tidal Power 51
G IS SPONSOR
ET LIGHTNIN ED B
QU I Y
QUIET LIGHTNING
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet
Lightning is to foster a community based on literary
expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL
produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on
the first Monday of every month, of which these books
(sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts.

Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the QL board is currently:

Evan Karp executive director
Chris Cole managing director
Josey Rose Duncan public relations
Lisa Church outreach
Meghan Thornton treasurer
Kelsey Schimmelman secretary
Laura Cerón Melo art director
Christine No production

If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in
helping—on any level—please send us a line:

e v an @ qui et light nin g . o rg
AAAAA
AAAA AAA
AA
T H IS IS
WHAT IT’S TIME FOR

May the bird songs be piercing and odd, the odder the
better. May the water sounds be from rivers. Record
them. Pick a day, put microphones everywhere. So
everyone listens at the same time. Some of us will have
to wake up in the middle of the night. Others will need
to pull over. For the whole world to listen. To hear the
bird songs and the sounds of water. Travel the world.
Find the amazing ones. Find the wild sounds. Bring us
nature. So we can listen. This is what it’s time for.

The kind of thing it’s nice to believe is that there’s one
big heart for all the rivers. Go to the rivers. Find the
heart. Record what happens. Take this sound. Drown
the world. Make blessings. Mountains of blessings.

Show us mountains. Give us signals. To go up. Show
us caves. Draw us in. To look in the dark. More than
anything, this is what it’s time for.

It’s time to pray. It’s time for Praying 101. Make a
prayer. Make a heart song. Make a prayer that pumps
a river. Make a river that turns into us. Do these
things and we promise we’ll watch. We’ll watch this
water making song. We’ll wait like rocks. As long

1
as it takes. For the water. For the song. For the prayer.
Till we can’t tell if it’s a prayer or a song or if it’s water.
There’s a song and it’s a song version of river. Make a
rhythm. We’ll assemble. We are ready. Get us on the
inside. Find us on the heart.

2
RRRRRRRRRR
RRR
FRACTURED GHAZAL

If you asked me how it happened I would tell you
Solstice, & then begin falling. I borrow time

To skip across latitude lines, & if you wanted to know
My middle name, I would tell you Declination. I borrow
time

To remember arcseconds. To trace my genealogy back to
Ramallah, which is another name for Hope. I borrow time

From my grandmother, who I now call Malak. Whose
eyes
Have become bread, the fig tree in the backyard. I borrow
time

To forget that the sun has to set over the desert, backpe-
daling to
Meet the man who made my name mean Refugee. I
borrow time.

3
MMMMMMMMMM
MM

UNTITLED

This is a poem about love
but I don’t want to tell you “I love you”
I’ve spent too much time standing outside the house
those words live in
to feel a yaarana with them.
To be honest
English has always been
a little weaponized on my tongue.
When I was 10
I wielded it-
against my Hindi speaking mother,
sometimes-as-artillery-sometimes-as-shield.
Mind you, my Ma was no Medea,
on most days she was so worn out from
disciplining the country accents out of
soft pawed children who walked with their heads
down
that she had no desire to knock me about. On most
days.
But sometimes when the children reminded her too
much of herself—
bright faced but doomed—
with not enough money to make up for being the
wrong religion, wrong caste

5
she would come home on a cloud of silence
and thunderstorm all over the house.
Between the softness of her Dabur Aamla head rubs
and the crispy flair of her aalo pakoras
ma meri had become an expert in making pain flower
in me
sharp and sudden like without lifting a finger.
She knew how to optimize the trajectory
of a Hindi phrase—just so—
to raise secret welts on the hide of my mind.
But being my mother’s child meant
I was already schooled in subterranean warfare
I learned how to hold English against my chest as
armor
while setting up polysyllabic land mines for her to
trip on.
Somedays it was simpler—
“I hate youuuuu, I hate youuuu with all my heart”
I’d scream, because whispering main aapse nafrat karti
hoon would’ve been too final.
Even at 10 I knew
English couldn’t contain the junoon of our Hindi
speaking hearts.
So I won’t tell you “I love you”
because jaaneman—the knower of my heart
this language is made only for poems
about not telling you “I love you” in English,
in English.

6
KKKKKK
KKKK K
KK K

H U IP IL

Before horses and their masters claimed
the highlands, when a woman would weave
stories of nopal and mesquite into sacred
huipil, hopes embroidered en que colores,
before conquistadores made her bend over,
she touched her goddess, donned morning
dress and no hue waxed too bright
nor too dark.

Understand the threads of her years now
cut into blistered fingers, calloused
hands, she holding fabric to machine
needles beating a tempo, she keeps time,
pieces cloth to make “peasant blouses”
for peces gordos.

She breaks colorless bobbin thread
between filled teeth, hoping to catch
a breeze under locked doors — maybe
the voice of her abuela, whispering
a call to arms.

7
KKKKKKKKKK
KKK

C O M M U NIT Y

War and Peace moved in together.
On their first night, War jerked
Peace off with a buzz saw.
Up against Safeway’s artificial rain
synched to spray the lettuce heads,
Greed and Generosity
spun heavy words on wet tongues
about Peace never telling War
he was molested as a child.

In a virgin dusk, Peace invited
Love and Hate over for steak.
They arrived holding hands
through a union of contradiction.
After the couples gathered around
a fire pit lick, the visceral crowd
laughed long into a crisp midnight
over red wine
and visions of a bloody future.

9
KKKKKK
KKKK K
KK K
I DID
N’T HEAR NOBODY PRAY

When whiskey and blood run together,
did you hear anyone pray?
I didn’t hear nobody pray, dear Brother.
Dorsey Dixon

I dreamt of two women beheaded last night and
dreamt
a man threw a knife into the back of a woman. It
landed
between her shoulders and she fell. It’s only practice,
said the Islamist, as we sat discussing cultural differ-
ences.

I didn’t hear nobody pray, Dear Brother,

I go to the land of bright colors, where I wake to bells
pealing rusted resonance, loosening knots in my
chest.
Palm Sunday, a youth lurking, muy deprimido, outside
the four-hundred year-old church door. He’s selling
woven palm leaf ofrendas but I’m afraid to open
my purse where he’ll see large bills and want what I
have.

I didn’t hear nobody pray,

11
Inside the dark church, standing room only, children
play
on the floor, everyone holding palm leaves, I squeeze
by
glass cases holding La Virgen de Dolores and the Christ
child,
and the framed pictures of missing boys — El Chapo,
los Federales?
— dressed in white school shirts, faces wreathed in
roses,
hand-written prayers tacked up with bobby pins.
Senior, No se olvide a mi hijo!

I heard the crash on the highway,

Flying home over endless desert, smeared with heat,
dust, and iron, I watch below where rusted gunsling-
ers
hunt and coyotes abandon those boys and they die
crossing,
just to pull weeds from my garden.

But, I didn’t hear anyone pray.

12
MM MMMMMMMMM
MM
MM
BR OTHER

You see yourself with the same dark face
we see in old photos of our grandfather.
Your nose is a Dago nose, your black
bushy eyebrows are frowning.

Your leather brown eyes carry circles of fire,
and your shoulders slump forward, smoldered.

You reach for your timepiece, a military strap
with a silver-ringed face.
It matches your buzz cut head,
the smooth baby cheeks you’ve wanted
to grow a beard on since you stole my
mascara in the seventh grade, covered your pimples
with black scratches of wishful strokes, then
studied your chin in the mirror, said
I’m no WOP, I’m German;
Pennsylvania Dutch.

Last night you dreamt you leapt
from a Black Hawk with Freya, your Doberman
She had on your war helmet, your dog tags,
and your wedding ring.
She was dressed in your duty.

13
When you landed, you saw she’d broken her legs.
You heard her scream for help.
Her voice sounded like all the women you’ve ever
learned to know and love in private.

You reached your hand to her neck,
pulled off your dog tags and marched
through sand to the sea,
where you tossed them into
rolling water, exchanged your duty
for the smell of salty air
at your jawline.

When you snapped awake, you were lying in bed.

The pump on your night stand soothed,
like ocean water,
the sucking of apnea
that started when
rockets rattled
your bunk
back in the ‘Stan,
worsened when you learned
to get used to it,
learned to roll over
and wait for the boom.

In that moment, you feared your heart would break.
In that moment, you wished that it would.

14
KKKKKKKKKK
KKK
IR HE
TWENETQ U I R E A H U G I N T TURY
Y -SE C O N D C E N

because I only seek
flesh-based affection.

I require a hug
because I’m oppressing you
and I know it.

I require a hug
because I lost my neuro link
to Ma’s comatose brain.

I require a hug
because my mind implant

is shoving me thought cancer
like a popup dick pic.

I require a hug
because my dead brother
is divorced from all warmth.

I require a hug
because I am still human.

15
BB BBBBBBBBBB
BB BB
B B
B O R DER AN GELS
For Walter, who leaves food and water for migrants in the
Calexico desert

Each night his thin dungarees
hang on the line. In the morning, he sinks
his hands into the cool dark, pooled
in the pockets and steps out to make the delivery.

The flycatchers direct him where to go—
a group of twenty-three hiding by the arroyo,
border patrol in pursuit from the west.

Pota, pota, pota,
he sings wheeling the water drums,
yowa’ini yowa’ini

and the sun grinds his voice into sand
that makes, in the spaces between saguaros,
an oasis.

When he comes across unburied remains,
he labors through the obsequies.
Beside him, ghosts gather
in their mended shrouds,
as the living migrate North,

17
and the dead return South.

Fragments of their stories linger—

a jagged pebble
placed beneath the tongue
to stave off thirst,
a lover’s skin the ochre of desert after rain,
faded blue rocking chair
beneath a blooming jacaranda.

Back home he sets a bowl of purple blossoms
beside decomposed rosaries,
broken combs.
His jeans wait on the line,
a threadbare light
glinting off the button.

18
TEJON RANCH SONATA: 2032

The last colt on the
ranch dies and no one
has the will to dig
another grave—
earth too dry, shovels
worn dull. In the
empty corral,
the youngest
farmhand shears tail
hair, ties it to a stick
of whittled birch.
When the sun
dissolves hide,
muscle, he pulls the
bow across the
blanched arches
of the ribcage,
allegro, andante—a
butcher of sound
carving the melody,
a flank for the
ancestors
in the creek bed, who
sing along in spite
of their conversion.

Be nja mi n Gu cci a rdi 19
LOVE LASTS BY NOT LASTING

The pair of coyotes
have long since left the estero.
Yet each time you walk the banks
you see them, larger,

more at home beside the brackish, rust
blooming on their winter coats,
the spot on the female’s tail
the color of the brick

chimney in your flat
where those cold mornings
you lay beside her, the scent
of ground rye rising from the bakery,

watching her sleep,
tenderness ceding
to contempt,
the morning bells lingering

on the cobblestone, the clop
of hooves
as the day
gathered speed.

20
KKKKKK
KKKK K
KK K

COUNTERPOINTS

1.

On the Nicaraguan coast, empty
as a long sigh, chocoyas chatter
and flit in green palms.
Down the strand, I float
in a warm pool, cradled,
boca arriba, finger tips just
touching land, my ears under
water, the tumbling waves
gentled, a tympani of escape.

2.

Raindrops dance to musica charanga,
pattering against the skylight,
counterpoint of violin and flute,
dotted eighth note clave,
I see sound, hear writing.
I am a fugitive from the needs
of my country.

3.

Oakland women walk under
towering buildings, heads
flaunting pussy hats,

21
messages on cardboard—
a vagina brought you here
and a vagina will vote you out!
A young girl stands with words
on her back: Snowflakes together
can start an avalanche.

4.
Back in my comfortable home, alone
again, I question the elements—rage,
ridicule, self-righteous use of children—
used to make serious political arguments.
I go sit on my cushion, cross my legs.
Meditation was never meant for average
householders, proclaims a friend. We don’t
know what to do with such openness.

22
PPPPPPPPPP
PPP P
P O E M S A RE U SE L E SS

after Jamila Woods

unless they are pepper spray, stinging cries for change,

girls dancing fearless at night. I want poems

my mother couldn’t write in her book of recipes,

I want them like golden brown onions sizzling, and done

when they are fully translucent, free of color, wishes with

no commas and semicolons holding them back every line

a hot skillet of female compromises melting, butter & scotch

I want a poem for the man whose idea of heaven is

an accidental brush with a woman’s side boob. I want it

to be the missing 21 cents for every $ in her salary slip.

Brown lines my sisters conceal in Loreal True Match

Secrets my aunts hide under telephone lines over TV soap

Each her and her a particle of raw dust birthing storms,

blinding stencil societal vision, dust that creates, cooks,
cradles,

but never settles
23
MM MMMMMMMMM
MM
MM
H UMAN
PAPILLOMA VIRUS
“I am the Grandmother of all growth, all growing things, all life.
When you throb with life these other lives live with you…let life
fill you, and you will have little to fear from most viruses you
meet.”
Susan Weed

I.

It’s time to admit I have a secret:
we’ve all had cancer between our legs

and while theirs blazed like wildfire
mine was a scratch on a lens,

an imperfection in the red
unpolished diamond of my cervix,

dysplasia, a deep flaw,
precious
inside folds

of ruby velvet skin,
flowered,
a nick.

25
I surrounded it
with quenching salves

made from sticky, softened petals
soaked in sun-warmed oil,

plucked from soil outside,
where their full bloom faces

followed the path of the sun.

My hands look like my mother’s hands
so when I picked the flowers

it was she who peeled
apart the petals

that prepared me for my healing,
& stirred the golden liquid,

bubbles rising with confidence
that I could do it:

keep the doctors at bay with a balm
of my own making.

It worked.

Do you feel proud
of your sexuality my child?

26
II.

He said my pussy was a mouth

and with his fingers resting
at the place
that pulsed,

he said Before,
I thought of them as wounds.

How do they stay clean?
he wanted to know.

I told him of my hands
that reached inside

a jar of flowers,
squeezed the oil from their petals,

hardened their juices
into almond-sized pills

for my mouth down there.

I slipped them in
& felt them melt
into the ridges
and valleys,
tracing coolness
up and into
thirsty skin.

Me gan de Mat t e o 27
III.

The morning sky was pink today.
It hung princess clouds from streaks

of gold that seeped through the pale skin
of sky to the left,
which I’ve come to know

as the veil concealing you
like virgin bride,

drop of red no longer
blistering
inside your pelvis.

It’s strange to imagine you there
and us here. You, filling the sky

with cotton-candy
the morning you passed,
me—sitting below the pink that pervaded

as the morning sun’s
warmth flushed the coolness of dawn
slowly, the way red radiates
from cheekbones.

I remember when you stopped treatment,
when you felt the radiation possess you,
burn you;

28
teach you how sacred those parts were,
teach you what you were willing to give up,
teach you what you wanted to protect.

IV.

Josie was just like her namesake,
always had a boyfriend like Aunt Jo,

who had a few different husbands—
always outlived them—

but no children to bear their names.

Aunt Jo lived up in New York for a while,
with what’s his name—the first one.

It was either there or back in Jeannette
she had the hysterectomy.

Meg, do you think it was bad luck to name Josie
after someone in our family with cancer?

After the procedure,
Aunt Jo lived.

She grew old holding hands
with the man across the street,

while Josie pool-hopped
in her final summer,
prepared to pass with an iPad,

Me gan de Mat t e o 29
& slept with the TV on.

V.

When our grandpa got the news,
he’d already filled
the white ceramic bowls
with blood enough times
to know he needed a second look.

A biopsy:
bio + opsis;
life + sight;

What did they see in this life that lived
with you,
in you,
instead of you?

Did they see the cells of someone
who pressed dough between hot iron
molds & waited
for the oil of anise
to flower its scent
around picture frames
seashells, hand-knitted slippers –

niceties, comforts installed
by the women you loved,
who took part in your kingdom,

a benevolent ruler you were.

30
BBBBBBBBB
BBB B

T H E NAKED TR UT H

I showed up to the zombie apocalypse with hairy legs.
But first, I gave birth to my son.

In the delivery room, in those precious 30 seconds
between peak contractions, in that quiet space of
concentrated breathing and focused preparation, I
heard my unborn child’s great-grandmother declare,
in a strong voice that carried clear across the hospital:
“Oh my God! I’ve never seen a naked woman from
this angle before!”

I thought, “Oh my God! Did I shave my legs?
Please, God, DID I SHAVE MY LEGS?!?”

Yes. Yes, I had shaved my legs for that occasion. God
forbid the doctor have to deal with something icky
like stubble when she helped me birth my baby.

The stress of showing up anywhere in my life with
hairy legs is pretty damn intense. There is only
one thing I know of that is more stressful than not
shaving.

I’ve raised three kids, moved them across the country

31
three times, bought and sold two houses—one in the
recession—and survived the death spiral of divorce.

It’s none of that.

Last year, one daughter traveled alone to Australia
for five weeks. My son’s best friend was in a coma
for several weeks. My other daughter started talking
about making me a grandmother.

Stressful. But no nightmares or anything.

Then there’s online dating. One of my so-called
matches believes we’re being governed by aliens and
two of my matches have since been sent to prison—
one for life.

I still have to date, but it doesn’t give me nightmares.
Although, maybe it should.

I do have nightmares about zombies, though. I have
for a few years. They are the absolute most stressful
non-thing things in the entire history of every. damn.
thing. EVER.

They come after you, and they never stop. Never.
You run or drive or climb or ski away as fast as you
can. You escape by the skin of your teeth and you get
away. You think you’re safe? Oh no. You think you
can breathe? Oh hell no. You can’t stop. They’re still
coming. They’re going to catch up. They’re going to

32
get you. Usually before the end of your nap.

And there’s nowhere—NOWHERE—on the planet
you can get away from them. They. Just. Keep.
Coming.

You can’t stop and you can’t slow down. And you
have to fight.

And there’s a lot of fighting and you need killer skills
to fend them off. Skills I don’t have.

You have to smash their heads or skewer their
brains—and you have to do it before the damn things
can claw you or bite you or whatever the fuck it is
they do to you. You end one and there’s eight more
right behind them.

You’re always always outnumbered and you have to
survive by wit and cunning and physical prowess—
and let’s face it, I’m only half awake for 80 percent of
the daylight hours. And I’m kind-a out of shape.

I used to be hell-a fit. Years of hard-core ballet, com-
petitive swimming. Soccer, cheerleading. Running on
the sand, playing in the surf. Dancing every weekend.
Hiking. You know what they all have in common?
Physical fitness. Stamina. Shaving my legs.

All this active stuff I did—it all required shaving. The

Bronwyn Eme ry 33
habit is so much a part of me that I still do it every
other day, even if I’m climbing back into pajamas to
work from home. It’s been this way for 34 years.

And still, I had no idea this was a thing with me until
a few weeks ago, when I had an allergic reaction to
a scented shampoo. My face was so swollen I could
barely open my eyes, my hands were on fire—from
the inside out—and everywhere the lather had run
down my legs, up sprang red bumps like I had shaved
with a rusty razor.

My legs had ten glorious days to get as hairy as they
wanted.

My mind lost its shit by day four.

That night, I started having very bad dreams about
hairy legs. The worst one, the one that still makes me
anxious, is the nightmare about the zombie apoca-
lypse.

We were surrounded, a small pack of survivors and
me, on the top of a hill, with nowhere to run. It was
fight or die time. Someone handed me a pitchfork.
And in that moment of human connection, where
one of the last people on Earth gave me a tool to save
my life, zombies bearing down on us from all sides, I
realized I was standing in a skirt with hairy legs and
my insides flip-flopped.

34
Self-conscious and exposed, I gave myself up to death
by zombie.

My subconscious has elevated the need to shave my
legs above the need to survive the end of the world,
and that’s the naked truth.

Bronwyn Eme ry 35
PPPPPPPPPP
PPP P

HATE SOCKS

Inside this drawer is a pile of socks I wear every time I sense
a certain Veronica threatening my self created Bettyness.
I do not remember who built this drawer inside my wardrobe
but it feels like a chest of knowledge I was born into. I first
opened it at age 9 when my school friend Anchal, oh Anchal
of whiter complexion and rare blue-green eyes was gifted
the furriest softest pair of panda bear slippers by an aunt,
all the way from London. All I had in blue-green was envy

I wore my socks and hail mary’d all night that a mouse
in her house eat up that fur or at least leave holes for toes.
I felt the heat under my socks grow each time she wore
her imported gift Until at 12 she fell out of a moving van
in a land sliding accident and got 14 stitches the shape
of a mutilated U between her eyebrows. Inside the drawer
I found my socks arranged as an objective question:
Am I now prettier to get a boyfriend quicker than her?

Inside this drawer is the pair of socks that willingly sat
legs wide open with a boy on the football ground grading
women that passed by; dividing them into a Hot List,
Cute List and the Never Mind List. I think she’s a 6
on boobs but her ass is a straight 10. If I fell for something
that flat-chested I might as well just fall on the ground.

37
I shot numbers at women’s backs and fronts as if sizing
them up was a brand of liberal prerequisite to be fuck

worthy for this boy this boy this boy and then that boyfriend
who got married and I holidayed in my old socks all over
his FB honeymoon pictures hitting like like like, while
finding faults of face and skin and shape and size in his wife.
Until I thought I was a few internet-feminism articles old
and of radical age to change the knowledge I was born into
the drawer creaked open the day a stepmother entered my house
I parade around the kitchen in my coziest home socks throwing

tantrums at how the way she arranges pots & pans is so counter
intuitive to my mother’s, tell her we have no space for her
sewing machine, making her feel guilty for a hole in my life
she never created, like a new knowledge she was suddenly born into
like a black hole I keep making her fall into and clog the hole with
all of my socks until I am trying so hard for the drawer to stay shut
STAY SHUT STAY SHUT STAY SHUT because these hate socks
are making hand puppets of my insecurities. I am trying hard to
walk

bare feet over the rough ground that makes women hate women

38
EEEEEEEEEE

L U X U N ’S W I V E S ,
O PEN-M OUTHE D

Zhu An

O my circle life, the path
from the sewing bench to
the kitchen to the bedroom, where I sit
massaging your mother’s ankles at
night, kneading her mourning of opium
and alcohol, husband and sons, into bone.

I (high forehead, tiny feet), your mother’s
gift to you. We wed once—the lily in my hair—
and then you were an envelope I waited for.
The paper bills curled to buy meat from the market.

I want a love like Ba Jin and Xiao Shan:
he slept with her ashes by the bed. Instead I stoop
to the mirror, see myself: not quite widow, almost
apparition. I do my best not to exist. I do my best but
what can I do—receive. Money for meat.

39
Xu Guangping

You love me for my ugliness.

Broad-shouldered

Cross-dressing

Baby perched on a strong thigh

Defiance / radical /

I am your modern woman.

I take up space.

Staid

Starched

Speaking out—

But I am still

Swallowed

Into you.

40
Lu Xun

By my bedside, a colored woodcut
as small as a cigarette card. In it she
sweeps up her skirts, hair dark and unfurled
like a kite. Leaning forward—escape
or pursuit—roses by her feet—dropped

or already there, she, just passing through.

Emi ly Luan 41
HHHHHH
H HHHH HH
HH H
WHEN YOU’RE POOR:

When you’re poor and you drop the $4 salsa
container
you stare at the splatter pattern on the floor
and count the losses in dollars and cents

You buy your son a fancy Larabar, and when he
doesn’t finish it
you eat it and hope you don’t catch his cold

You pour the liquid from the squash you roasted into
the soup
and pour the excess soup broth into the rice you cook

You keep your head down and don’t talk to people
You don’t react to the Facebook status of an
acquaintance, who shares
that she needs extra frequent flier miles to get back
early from her $2,000 vacation
because her dad is dying
Maybe you become a shitty friend

You don’t ask your landlord to fix things
You don’t fix your car
You don’t get the bump you have under your eyelid
checked out,
43
even though you have health insurance

You keep stocking your pantry with cans

You don’t buy your son an animal balloon at the
farmers market

You don’t want to listen to your middle class-ish
white friends
talk about why they voted third party

You cash your WIC checks at the supermarket and
apologize to everyone around you
for the cashier’s difficulty in understanding how to
process a WIC check

You apologize again to the cashier when they yell at
you
because they don’t know how to process a WIC
check

You simultaneously thank and apologize again to the
cashier on the way out
and wonder why they’re so angry at you
You assume the cashier is poor, too

You apologize to your son, sitting in the shopping
cart, who says
“Mama, why is it taking so long?”

Your birth control fails and you get an abortion over
winter break
44
because Obama is still President, and you still can,
and your partner’s immigration status
is precarious under the incoming regime
and you don’t know what you would do if your
partner were deported
and you were left with two children by yourself
You don’t tell anyone

You keep your 4.0 at school
(mothers, if they do anything, have to be doing it
perfectly, and never for the sake of success, itself)

You eat your whole lunch and your son’s leftover
breakfast in your car, at 10am,
after you drop him off at preschool

Your father thinks that your poverty is proof of your
ineptitude in a man’s world,
and you stop talking to him
(You remind yourself that he beat you when you were
little.
You remind yourself that for the past 25/35 years of
your life, he told you that
you were emasculating men by being competitive—
that you needed to watch it, or you would get fat.
He said this to you even when you were a size 0 and
abusing laxatives.)

You think that you are broken and that people will
always know you were once poor
A mark of shame written into the way you save

H e at he r Kornblu m 45
coupons or eat food past the expiration date

You will always pour the liquid from the roasted
squash into the soup

46
FFFFFFFFFFF

LI VIN G R O O M

Our evenings have withdrawn
into a closed living room,
where we don’t chat
but let a large TV cheat us.
We watch life on a screen
with a vicarious thrill.

There were children everywhere
in our ancestral home—
you could see one
even within a bamboo basket
lying upside down.
‘One’ is the ideal number now.
No one likes
noises annoying the living room.

We’ve banished our only daughter
into an adjacent study—
where she’s seen
as a broiler chicken.

A savory smell,
wafting up from the kitchen,
used to tickle my nostrils,

47
while sitting on the veranda.
Now our cooker rarely whistles—
fast-food parcels really silence our kitchen.

Our pa and ma had defeated the hard soil—
it was their sweat drops
that soothed our stomachs.
We’ve discarded the defunct parents
in a dark stinking room,
even where they pray for us.

We peep into others’ life
with a voyeur’s eyes.
Love and fun hatch not
out of our muted words.
We aren’t living here,
only imagining of living.

48
MMMMMMMMMM
MM

UNTITLED
The night shuffles
towards its end
boozed and unwilling…
the glamour of it
kneels around you,
supplicant,
like me
drawn into your orbit
like a satellite.

You know it.
You who enter rooms
snug in an aureole
of red sudden words…
you know that there is something breakable about
you tonight
something that clings to the lunar
froth of sweat caught in your hair…
you know
that when it gleams electric

49
under the naked light
 
I watch
quivering in my corner
and fold into myself.

50
JJJJJJJJJ
JJJJJ

TID AL P O W E R

Do you yet know
the infinite possibilities of dreaming

to find yourself adrift, oarless
in waves of wild abandon -
no control
in a blissful undertow that draws you down?

Thrashing in the current, summon your vision
and conjure your boldest self, the one
you lock under tight key -
let him face you in the mirror, for he is surely
beautiful.

You: a reedy flower, gossamer bright, with
skeletons of bloom bursting forth
reclaim your histories, once lost to pain and longing,
suppressed to survive, pressed in a heavy dense
tome -
as you freely write your new future on sturdy
bark,
with indelible red ochre.

Manifest your self, and let him out -

51
it is time.

The ocean is a tempest, yes -
but find comfort
in consistent waves, lunar regulated

the ocean is tumult, of course -
but find solace
in tidal power, rising tall.

Water is memory, yet water washes clean -
water is feeling, yet dissolves hard substance in time.

Surrender to the currents -
and boldly buoy aloft.

52
- june 5, 2017 -