by Xiao Yumi

Māma, listen.
Millions of oysters were turning pearls in their bellies
the day you shucked your self. You unzipped the vertebrae
and stepped out. All you took was your cut-off tongue
as a change purse, to pay the fee into heaven.
You were in a rush. You left everything else behind.
It was sloppy. Evidence everywhere. Your still hands,
the jelly still cooling on your eyes, still
I thought maybe, phoenix, when they showed me the box
with your ashes inside. But you haven’t shown your face
around here, and it’s been ten years. Actually, māma,
it was those grains of sand that forced you out,
cancerous nacre to pearls so plentiful that in the last months,
whenever you opened your mouth it was only
broil – shimmer – shimmer. Too bright to look at.
Hair in milkweed drifts on the floor. In the night
you would exhume your sirens and wail, and wail,
and father told me how you tried to start love with him
the week before and he just couldn’t do it.
He pretended he didn’t understand. Māma,
I’ve been meaning to tell you, sometimes in the grocery store
light splinters the wrong way and I see
your dried flower skin fingers wrapped around the red beam
of a trolley, the open-mouthed entrapment of guì huā
overcrowded and bubbling to the water’s surface, waiting
for the butcher to come net them out. Remember then,
when I found you by a shallow hole in the garden, loam under your nails.
When you motioned to me I want to go, your neck fluting
upwards, I just couldn’t do it.
I pretended I didn’t understand
the open-mouthed entrapment bubbling to the water’s surface
as I helped you back inside, although I wonder
if it was help at all, the shimmer, shimmer, bright
on our napes as the door shut behind us.

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