I cross the street and my skin falls off. Who walks to an abandoned lake? Who abandons lakes? I ask questions to evade personal statements. When you are skinless, you cannot bear to be more vulnerable. With skin, I would say I am in love with Love as in that old-time song crooners like to croon. With skin, I would wear elbow-length opera gloves of pearly satin. Protect my skin. Hide it. There is no skin like my skin. How I miss it — I miss it as I would a knitted bonnet, a pewter teaspoon to stir sugar into hot water. My great passion was my skin. The lover I loved. They don’t sell skin at Wal-Mart. And really, how could I, humanely, buy it? Would you ever give me your skin? This is a terrible world we live in. There are mistakes and batteries littering a junk drawer, where Mother would hide my house keys and Father would store his eyeballs. Do you know Puccini? Do you spill silk at the gorgeous onslaught of love, of Pinkerton’s lurking return? Butterfly had no skin either but you could not tell from the outer left balcony. As I lay in a bed of my dead skin, I dream of Butterfly and what she could have done instead: run away to this little room to lose her aching voice, to listen to the hourly ringing of bells that is really the souring birdsong of a child, skinned and laughing, a child that will never be hers.
From The Helen Burns Poetry Anthology: New Voices from the Academy of American Poets University & College Prizes, Volume 9. Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Chang. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then
I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:
I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.
That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,
is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!
We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children
testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.
It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.
I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion
I'll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.
What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I'm correcting my mistakes.
It means I don't want to be lonely.
Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of the author.
You say wind is only wind & carries nothing nervous in its teeth. I do not believe it. I have seen leaves desist from moving although the branches move, & I believe a cyclone has secrets the weather is ignorant of. I believe in the violence of not knowing. I've seen a river lose its course & join itself again, watched it court a stream & coax the stream into its current, & I have seen rivers, not unlike you, that failed to find their way back. I believe the rapport between water & sand, the advent from mirror to face. I believe in rain to cover what mourns, in hail that revives & sleet that erodes, believe whatever falls is a figure of rain & now I believe in torrents that take everything down with them. The sky calls it quits, or so I believe, when air, or earth, or air has had enough. I believe in disquiet, the pressure it plies, believe a cloud to govern the limits of night. I say I, but little is left to say it, much less mean it-- & yet I do. Let there be no mistake: I do not believe things are reborn in fire. They're consumed by fire & the fire has a life of its own.
From Anabranch by Andrew Zawacki. Copyright © 2004 by Andrew Zawacki. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.
Six monarch butterfly cocoons clinging to the back of your throat— you could feel their gold wings trembling. You were alarmed. You felt infested. In the downstairs bathroom of the family home, gagging to spit them out— and a voice saying Don’t, don’t—
Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.