Anna May Wong on Silent Films
It is natural to live in an era
when no one uttered—
and silence was glamour
so I could cast one glance westward
and you’d know what I was
going to kill. Murder in my gaze,
treachery in my movements:
if I bared the grooves
in my spine, made my lust known,
the reel would remind me
that someone with my face
could never be loved.
How did you expect my characters
to react? In so many shoots,
I was brandishing a dagger.
The narrative was enchanting
enough to make me believe
I, too, could live in a white
palace, smell the odorless gardens,
relieve myself on their white
petals. To be a star in Sun City—
to be first lady on the celluloid
screen—I had to marry
my own cinematic death.
I never wept audibly—I saw my
sisters in the sawmills,
reminded myself of my good luck.
Even the muzzle over my mouth
could not kill me, though I
never slept soundly through the silence.
From Oculus. Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.