Astroturf

Tina Chang - 1969-
Before my son was born, I had been inside my home often and, one spring day, sat myself on the astroturf behind a playground close to my home. I laid back, allowing the plastic grass to prick my arms and wrists. A few feet away, three girls sang a string of songs about heartbreak, all the while the lyrics broke and remade themselves on the edge of each spring leaf. I listened and I didn’t listen at once which felt like my fullest attention. The girls were so casual in their beauty, legs entangled in one another, fingers braiding each other’s teen hair. They seemed like one animal of burnished light and I tried not to stare. It was the kind of beauty that held its own attention, needed no validation, long eyelashes and pale arms gestured toward wholly bright selves. I closed my eyes hearing their laughter. I heard, too, from afar someone approaching. I heard a small thud and a boy’s voice. They talked, they joked, and then a silence that made me open my eyes. After a longer pause, they asked him to please leave. I now saw the boy was black and I registered an expression that was slow rain coming down hard as he grabbed his backpack swinging it so fiercely, it almost hit one of the girls. As he walked away, they laughed past him. Their laughter was the long shadow that followed him for years, their laughter forced him to round the corner, almost gone from view. Before he disappeared, he yelled, “Bitch,” but the memory of him left not a trace. The girls continued to sing except now there were thorns falling on the imagined grass, some of which landed close to me. When I sat up, I felt a strong kick inside me. My boy would be here soon. Six more days into the future I would meet him. I touched the area that moved. I waited.

More by Tina Chang

Duality

Perhaps I hold people to impossible ideals, 
I tell them, something is wrong with your 
personality, (you're a drinker, you're 
too dependent, or I think you have 
a mother/son fixation). This is usually 
followed by passionate lovemaking,
one good long and very well meaning 
embrace, and then I'm out the door.  

In daylight, I'll tip my sunglasses forward, 
buy a cup of tea and think of the good 
I've done for the world, how satisfying 
it feels to give a man something to contemplate. 
The heart is a whittled twig. No, that is not 
the right image, so I drop the heart in a pile 
of wood and light that massive text on fire.    

I walk the streets of Brooklyn looking 
at this storefront and that, buy a pair of shoes 
I can't afford, pumps from London, pointed 
at the tip and heartbreakingly high, hear 
my new heels clicking, crushing the legs 
of my shadow. The woman who wears 
these shoes will be a warrior, will not think 
about how wrong she is, how her calculations 
look like the face of a clock with hands 
ticking with each terrorizing minute. 

She will for an instant feel so much 
for the man, she left him lying in his bed 
softly weeping. He whispers something 
to himself  like bitch, witch, cold hearted 
______,  but he'll think back to the day 
at the promenade when there was no one there 
but the two of them, the entire city falling away 
into a thin film of yellow and then black, 

and how she squeezed his hand, kissed him 
on his wrist which bore a beautifully healed 
scar, he will love her between instances 
of cursing her name. She will have long 
fallen asleep in her own bed, a thin nude 
with shoes like stilts, shoes squeezing 
the blood out of her feet, and in her sleep 
she rises above a disappearing city, her head 
touching a remote heaven, though below her, 
closer to the ground, she feels an ache at the bottom.

Evolution of Danger

I'm the one in the back of the bar, drinking cachaça, 
fingering the lip of the glass. Every dream has left 
me now as I wait for the next song:  Drag and drum. 
They'll be no humming in this room, only fragrance 
of sweat and fuel. To make the animal go. To make it 
Hungry.  After that there is Thirst. 

* 

I danced in the border town until it wasn't decent, 
until I was my grandest self hitchhiking, my slim arm 
out like the stalk of a tired flower, waving, silver rings 
catch the headlights. I'm not sure what I wanted
as we rode on his motorcycle where Chinese signs blurred 
past, flashing red, then blue, and I breathed in the scent 
of fish and plum. My hands found their way to his pockets 
as I rode without helmet, careening toward the cemetery, 
the moon dripping light onto avenues of tombstones.

*

If the Tunisian black market was hidden within a maze. 
If I couldn't find my way, I asked. The wide eyes 
of the boy who led me to the Mediterranean Sea. 
If I took his kindness as a version of truth and stood 
posing for a photo in front of bicycles leaned 
against the sand colored walls. If I arrived 
at the center of the market, women in black muslin 
sold glazed tile on blankets. When I bent down, 
the men surrounded me. If they asked for money 
I had nothing. If they threw their bills around me, 
I recall the purple and red faces crushed on paper. 

* 

Attempting to cross the border with no passport, 
no money. The contents had fallen out of her 
pocket as she ran for the bus. She made promises 
to the officers, bared an inner thigh until their eyes 
grew wide, until they stamped a sheet of official paper 
with tri-colored emblems. The man's fist 
was large though it twitched as he pounded 
the stamp onto the translucent page. The little 
money she had inside an orange handkerchief tied 
to her hair, coins rolling to the ground as she fled.

*

Perhaps it was chance that I ended on the far side 
of the earth. Atrocities of our entanglement not on the bed 
but beside it. Using our mouths as tools for betterment, 
for seduction, for completion. The vertebra twists 
into a question mark to conform to another's. 

In the Patanal, the cowboys steadied the horses 
in the barn, the animal's labored breathing, the sigh 
as the coarse brush worked through the mane. 
The owner's daughter learning to move her hips 
as she practiced her samba before the steaming pot, 
and radio clicking, and lid drumming.

Of the men I've known, you were the most steady,
reliable one near the window killing mosquitoes, 
gathering cool water to press to my scalp. One-sided 
heart I was then. Selfish one. I wanted everything. 
Macaws flew past in quick flock, pushing outward 
toward the earth's scattering filament and mystery. 

* 

I don't ask myself questions anymore
(but it is not a question you ask yourself),
rather it was born, rather that the statement
was peeled like a film of dirt, (rather 
the words were meaning) wrapped inside 
a scarf, stuffed into my carry bag, rather 
that the camera caught all of it 
(the hunter and the kill).

When danger itself was restless,
(it had four legs and it ran with speed 
& vengeance). Though there was 
no purpose, (though the past had nothing 
to do with the chase now). This grand state 
(pumped from its own engine of blood), 
centuries of evolution, first as a red-eyed 
embryo, then reptile, then mammal, then 
man, pure racing, push of muscle and tendon, 
the tongue loose and dragging as the body 
made its way forward. Each time more 
powerful, a new version of waking until 
the species grew great wings and lifted.

Infinite and Plausible

It is the smallest idea born in the interior will,

that has no fury nor ignorance,

no intruder but stranger, no scaffold of a plea,

no mote of the hungry, no pitchfork of instinct,

no ladder of pity, no carriage of lust,

no wavering foot on concrete, no parish of bees,

no mountains of coal, no limestone and ash,

no lie poured down the stairs of a house among them,

and this is the will of maker and offspring,

no boot in the hallway indicating more exit

than arrival, more straying than strategy, no more struggle

than contained in my body now, as I wander the rooms,

tearing curtains apart from their windows

separating material from light.

Related Poems

The Dream of Shoji

How to say milk?  How to say sand, snow, sow,

linen, cloud, cocoon, or albino?
How to say page or canvas or rice balls?

Trying to recall Japanese, I blank out:

it's clear I know forgetting.  Mother, tell me
what to call that paper screen that slides the interior in?