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.
- 96: NO THEME IXSUBMIT NOW with M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHCOMING SOON with M Takolaner 94: BAYTCOMING SOON with Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones