By | 16 August 2019

The plush loveseats, the pillows festooned with birds,
Bamboo stalks, the console hewn with dragons’ heads,
Their long tongues unfurled; the teal wallpaper

Where a monkey clambers up a red-budded tree.
Cherry Blossoms? Magnolias? Such chinoiserie
As you wouldn’t find in all of China. Still here it is,

In an educated parlor in the eighteenth century, a kind
Of code for well-travelled-lord-and-lady of the house.
The way my mother tells it, she was twelve years old

In New York City, four to five pugs leashed in each hand,
Each dog paid a quarter to walk in the Upper West Side.
Salems prised between tight fingers, her mother loves

Her ghosts: twice a war widow, once a mother.
The twelve-year-old buys the milk and the bread
And the butter. Slick, slanted eyes, with only a lick

Of green in them. Here she is with the Jones’s bitch,
Against sudden rain off the Hudson.
Her hands red and wretched, burned as much

By leather as love. She remembers her mother
Eyeing the last two slices of bread on the counter:
Let’s pretend we’re rationing during the war, darling.

She remembers not to grimace
When the pug licks her mouth clean.
Because this is my version of the story,

It is getting cold. Because I love my mother,
She is hungry, a child running on a square of bread.
Like a wrecked clock, her mind runs on shy gears:

Sudden man at three-o-clock, sudden man
Progressing toward her over fast blocks; so fast,
Her knuckles give over tight dog leather.

Because he does not know her name,
He is calling after her
In his native tongue.

At the museum, it is decided that the flowers
Are cherry blossoms, the monkey a kind of
Mischievous, sly Eros. “Chinois!”, the Frenchman

Calls after my mother, “Chinois!”.
My mother learns to run fast and harder.
At twelve, there is no larger

Threat to her life than a man. He does not
Mean well, you and I know it, but que c’est un dur
Métier que d’ être belle femme
. Wasn’t that Baudelaire?

Isn’t it is no one’s fault but hers,
She is so beautiful—isn’t that the way
He will tell it in his own small kingdom? A girl

Neither Chinese nor of willing age.
After she loses their pug, the Joneses
Scan their conscience. She is conscientious,

Mrs. Jones, when she tells my mother
Thank you, darling, but no, there’s no
Further service required. You can go.

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