The Skin's Broken Aria

Jennifer Chang
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.

More by Jennifer Chang

Pastoral

Something in the field is
working away. Root-noise.
Twig-noise. Plant
of weak chlorophyll, no
name for it. Something
in the field has mastered
distance by living too close
to fences. Yellow fruit, has it
pit or seeds? Stalk of wither. Grass-
noise fighting weed-noise. Dirt
and chant. Something in the
field. Coreopsis. I did not mean
to say that. Yellow petal, has it
wither-gift? Has it gorgeous
rash? Leaf-loss and worried 
sprout, its bursting art. Some-
thing in the. Field fallowed and
cicada. I did not mean to
say. Has it roar and bloom?
Has it road to follow? A thistle
prick, fraught burrs, such
easy attachment. Stem-
and stamen-noise. Can I lime-
flower? Can I chamomile?
Something in the field cannot.

Sonogram

Dark matter, are you 
sparkless 

for lack of knowing
better? The room 

you've spun is distant
and indivisible—

a flickering lapsarian,
you satisfy no mute

progress but 
collapse, spiral, winded

by unwinding. Dear 
enigma kid, dear psychic

soft spot, I write you
from under eight spastic 

lights, each falser than stars, 
to promise I'll will 

the darkness out of you 
or I'll will myself 

to trying. Twisted 
mister, my incipient

sir, you be in charge 
of the what-if, I'll master why.

Again a Solstice

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.

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.