Jane Wong

 Dinner and A

Let’s be blunt – a bat right to the tender cortex.

I have too much patience when it comes to love. 

I marvel at how people pay to have tiny fish eat 

the callouses off their toes. I am each silver sucker, 

turning each fleck in each guzzling cheek. A friend

told me once to choose grace instead: to say no,

thank youin the buttery light of each breakage.

To send gratitude to the self, slathered in a red 

wine reduction of your own making. Over meatballs,

my date asks me: have you ever written a love poem? 

And: if you could travel anywhere, where would 

you go? I rub the pen that exploded on my face. 

Did I ever write a love. The light, was it dimmed 

and dumb? Where did I go in those cricket crushing 

boots, those shoulders of smoke and star fruit? 

Toward what house set on fire, centuries ago? 

Cedar along the throat. I’m not sure why I’ve always 

wanted books large enough to clobber a mouse, 

pliable enough to hold onto in the middle of the night. 

Or why cilantro blooms in snow when I kiss. 

Or why I consider the taxidermist’s decision: 

what to show in the window, how to hide 

that telling puncture. I turn to my date: yes I have,

and anywhere with or without a rope.


When You Died

I don’t want to tell you how Chinese people died lining up for a corn oil sale, trampled from the weight of desperation and the ambered cake of the sun, sugaring above.

Or how bad men have held their hands around my neck, greedy as a fish eating another fish’s eggs.

What I want to tell you: I am a good daughter. I repeat this until my lungs puncture little star-like holes.

Constellations of my devotion. I am trying. A daughter, breathing. I listen to the story. Of you collapsing in the kitchen, of my grandmother finding you, holding my infant mother. Of mucus pouring out of your mouth like so many slugs. I am trying hard not to place my cold hand on your forehead, to ease something devouring you, inside out.

The mouth should not sprout mushrooms and if so, I would not blame your neighbors for eating them, for lifting your earthly tubers to their faces for a kiss.

Researching, I am afraid of phrases like “edema” and “the euphoric stage.” Of poisonous food substitutes from the government. What the stomach does with too much water and nothing else. Who can turn into a bottom-feeder fish like that?

I loosen a balloon into the sky and it floats between two waterlogged storm clouds.

What to do in the world of the living.

I’ve always eaten what was given to me and then I’d eat it again. Chewed and chewed until everything coated my interior self with a silk sheen. Greasing a pan. Fai, fat.

The smear of oil along my arms, duck leg after duck leg. Bones in heaps, in stews, in swelling heat. So many string beans, they sprout from my ears and warble my hearing. I’m trying to listen.

Fai. Close to fate, fainting. Also, ai, with a different tone. Ai. Love. Who can fall in love, ai, during a time of starvation, m fai?

My mother fills an empty can of soup with water and swirls it, until each speck of oil catches. How beautiful, this twinkling tin. I have always loved what most people throw away: broccoli stems, fish heads, the white of green onions and its dangling foot like an anemone, the rat tail of a radish. I dream of boiling the salty shells of pistachios. Of gorging myself with compost, slick with nutrients.

It was definitely not fate. It was hukou and forced collectivization. It was the face of a man you’ll never see. How he dined on fish eggs, briny pearls. No one’s fate to eat old bird droppings, cotton, clay. What can be plucked from corpses, roses in May. I told you I was afraid.

Not fate.

I ate and ate and ate. Am your good daughter.

In the Pacific Northwest, two deer stare back at me in the woods, their antlers pulled up toward the moon like arms reaching up. They watch me carefully and can barely breathe through their hot, velvet noses. They know. Their fear trills around them, spitting dew on ferns. I want to slice their bellies open, to gather this otherworldly meat. To feed you until your eyes shine back and the slugs recede from your mouth. And when you’ve had enough, I’ll drape you in their hides, ever-warm.

It takes some time, but the balloon arrives to take you away. For a proper burial, for a cornucopia afterlife, for a tender rot. The balloon lifts your small, emptied body up with its one tendril and you hover above the floor, in disbelief.

You whisper: whose ear is pressed to this floor?

I bow, ever-full: your good son’s good daughter’s good daughter.


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Jane Wong’s poems can be found in Best American Poetry 2015, Pleiades, American Poetry Review, Third Coast, jubilat and others. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Fine Arts Work Center, Hedgebrook, and Bread Loaf. She is the author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016) and is an Assistant Professor at Western Washington University.