Love Poem from South China, 1999

The tropical infection traced
a map up my finger and standing
outside the Kunming Red
Cross Hospital, we watched this white

rabbit eat Christmas poinsettia
before we found the Doctor named Wen.
Registration for the operation cost 3 kuai 5
equivalent to twenty-seven cents. Dr.

Wen pointed two fresh, ready fingers
at his table and repeated (in English)
operation. After the lecture on pus
and abscess, you expressed nonchalance

at the sight of his knife, (he unwrapped
it, you said, optimistic) and I
whispered translations into the shirt
where I buried my face at your waist.

When Dr. Wen sliced the finger like tropical
fruit the leather taste spread
to the back of my mouth. Operation,
your belt, Chinese vocab abscess

operation, white rabbit, red plant. The day
went on outside, and when I
noticed it again hours later, I had stopped
screaming, The bandages were just

gauzy hotel curtains, angels
in fluttering light. When I rolled
from the shadows of hospital shock,
you introduced me to
my finger. Gored and masked
criminal bandit! Escaped from the red
cross, you said: Finger X. Read
a passage from Our Man

In Havana. Yes, China, Havana
nary a trauma; we double wrapped the
digit’s disguise with a plastic shower
cap and swam off the coast

of Hainan. But just to be safe, you carried
me through the water
with my hand raised like a torch
above the waves.

Related Poems

Lying My Head Off

Here's my head, in a dank corner of the yard.
I lied it off and so off it rolled.
It wasn't unbelieving that caused it
to drop off my neck and loll down a slope.
Perhaps it had a mind of its own, wanted
to leave me for a little while.

Or it was scared and detached itself
from the stalk of my neck as a lizard's tail
will desert its body in fright of being caught.
The fact is, I never lied. The fact is,
I always lied. Before us, we have two mirrors.
At times, they say, one must lie in order

to survive. I drove by the house, passed
it several times, pretending it was not
my own. Its windows were red with curtains
and the honeyed light cast on the porch
did not succeed in luring me back inside.
I never lied. I drove by the house,

suckling the thought of other lovers
like a lozenge. I was pale as a papery birch.
I was pure as a brand new pair of underwear.
It will be a long while before I touch another.
Yet, I always lied, an oil slick on my tongue.
I used to think that I was wrong, could

not tell the truth for what it was. Yet, one
cannot take a lawsuit out on oneself.
I would have sworn in court that I believed
myself and then felt guilty a long time after.
I hated the house and I hated myself.
The house fattened with books, made me

grow to hate books, when all the while
it was only books that never claimed
to tell the truth. I hated him and I hated
his room, within which his cloud of smoke
heaved. I disappeared up narrow stairs,
slipped quick beneath the covers.

My stomach hurts, I told him, I was tired.
I grew my dreams thick through hot nights:
dear, flickering flowers. They had eyes
which stared, and I found I could not afford
their nurture, could not return their stare,
Meanwhile, liars began their parade

without my asking, strode sidewalks inches
before my doorstep. I watched their hulking
and strange beauty, their songs pregnant
with freedom, and became an other self.
I taught children how to curse.
I bought children gold pints of liquor.

I sold my mind on the street.
1 learned another language. It translates easily.
Here's how: What I say is not what I mean,
nor is it ever what I meant to say.
You must not believe me when I say
there's nothing left to love in this world.