South in Hundreds

                 Missing one hundred.

for many leagues, i slept under
surface. couldn’t learn enough
to stay, couldn’t hurt along
midriff, scrum and scrub. see myself
rushing into tomorrow’s wet
world. thin trees almost ferns with quiet mouth
desire. took to cold high plain, only wind and a murdered boy.

started running at the first sign
of breath but there’s only
three yesterday heads speak in these fields.
so much to circle. always asking
to let me repair small chord between us.
you started lagging each step, dragging
the water, stirring up dirt. he still
refuses all nourishment, says everything bad.

an odd man rushes past, asking if
near swamp, still looking for signs
we’ve seen two girls on horseback.
not tired, he says, refusing to go to sleep.
we’ve seen very little all day, close to the whistling ground.
in this family, we don’t count sheep because we eat them.
we shake our heads no
under black light, we’re all deep stream, counting down cows.

as the man points to the tracks, they couldn’t have gone far.
         Still fresh, still fresh. 

More by Ching-In Chen

A Natural History of My White Girl

after Mendi Obadike

When I was a white girl, I had no mother.

I drank whiskey, lived in a house with no walls.

Girls visited and marveled at my room to breathe.
When it was sunny, they let down their hair, drank fresh orange juice.

We drank all morning, didn’t go to class.
I knew which words to carry in the arsenal, which memory to disarm the most resilient bully.
Nobody bothered us or asked why we were missing.

I never doubted this was me. I knew how to pull up short, how to light my name under their skin.

There was no need for mirrors. No need to get free.

American Syntax

The teacher straightbacked,
faced me off, her eyes.
            My face in the cleave of
her shoulder, my bones
sitting high my cheek.
             The word proper
arrives in the hall.  The order
of things, rolling
neat into pine drawers, dead-
clean. Squeezed juice of greedy
sponge.
              Her teeth not match.
One chipped.  The corner lifted,
peeking a window, furtive.
              The other, pearl, round
and perfect, looming above my
arched head.  About to bite.

Self-Portrait, New City Replicant

To heat a sister           	          House a burn

           adjust the replica body
                      in the yesterday travel rain

no sister locks the door 	at the highest temperature
three hours still parked 	still comfortable to eat  	sugar by force

only because each house keeps a burn together
       	   drinks the page            	An unseasoned tree
chosen to go to the sea

Related Poems

Evergreen

What still grows in winter?
Fingernails of witches and femmes,
green moss on river rocks,
lit with secrets... I let myself
go near the river but not
the railroad: this is my bargain.
Water boils in a kettle in the woods
and I can hear the train grow louder
but I also can’t, you know?
Then I’m shaving in front of an
unbreakable mirror while a nurse
watches over my shoulder.
Damn. What still grows in winter?
Lynda brought me basil I crushed
with my finger and thumb just to
smell the inside of a thing. So
I go to the river but not the rail-
road, think I’ll live another year.
The river rock dig into my shoulders
like a lover who knows I don’t want
power. I release every muscle against
the rock and I give it all my warmth.
                              Snow shakes
onto my chest quick as table salt.
Branches above me full of pine needle
whips: when the river rock is done
with me, I could belong to the evergreen.
Safety is a rock I throw into the river.
My body, ready. Don’t even think
a train run through this town anymore.

Epistle: Leaving

Dear train wreck, dear terrible engines, dear spilled freight,
          dear unbelievable mess, all these years later I think
          to write back. I was not who I am now. A sail is a boat,
          a bark is a boat, a mast is a boat and the train was you and me.
          Dear dark, dear paper, dear files I can't toss, dear calendar
          and visitation schedule, dear hello and goodbye.
If a life is one thing and then another; if no grasses grow
          through the tracks; if the train wreck is a red herring;
          if goodbye then sincerely. Dear disappeared bodies
          and transitions, dear edge of a good paragraph.
          Before the wreck, we misunderstood revision.
I revise things now. I teach pertinence. A girl in class told
          us about some boys who found bodies on the tracks
          then went back and they were gone, the bodies.
          It was true that this story was a lie, like all things
done to be seen. I still think about this story, what it would
          be like to be a boy finding bodies out in the woods,
          however they were left—and think of all the ways they
          could be left. There I was, teaching the building
          of a good paragraph, dutiful investigator
of sentences, thinking dear boys, dear stillness in the woods,
          until, again, there is the boy I knew as a man
          whose father left him at a gas station, and unlike the lie
          of the girl's story, this one is true—he left him there for good.
Sometimes this boy, nine and pale, is sitting next to me, sitting there
          watching trains go past the gas station in Wyoming,
          thinking there is a train going one way, and a train
          going the other way, each at different and variable speeds:
          how many miles before something happens
          that feels like answers when we write them down—
like solid paragraphs full of transitional phrases
          and compound, complex sentences, the waiting space
          between things that ends either in pleasure or pain. He
          keeps showing up, dear boy, man now, and beautiful
like the northern forest, hardwoods iced over.

Because “Some Women Are

                Laramie, Wyoming

 

lemons,” Harlan says he cares for cars instead, the plains
rising like bread from our glowing windows, Harlan’s
neck blushing to heat and the women he’s wrestled,
his barren limbs circling above them in a wash
of sweat and sock. We knead our common bodies
one to another, palm to bulk, and in middle
America, I sit next to a man I will never know,
taxiing, Harlan driving us this giving night. We are
three strangers in the strangeness of the talk of love,
and I am a little drunk, returning to my mother,
who stacked warm lemons on my neck. Like her, I know
how to cut from the wholeness of fruit, how to squeeze
an open body for its juice, my hand a vise,
Harlan’s women softening to my fingers: the waxed
pocks of their skins, how women keep their wetness
under their bitter whites. In Georgia, we learned to drink
the watered sour, heat lightning cracking above
us, and even new housewives know how to release
from three spoonfuls a pitcher’s worth, how to cut
the tart with sugar. The rind, the resistant ellipses,
are not the talk we make for men, only Sugah, have
some more, and there’s a tart too, why, what else
could I have done with so many lemons? and we press
our sweating cups to their lips, slipping
flavor and fragrance—the shells, the containers
we broke for want of ade, cast. From the phonograph
of his front seat, Harlan’s voice spins me, the man
beside me a coiling leg, and juiced, we say lemons! together
in the working yeast of this cab, and what unapologetic
fruit they are, leaving the smell of themselves even
after I have scrubbed my hands free from them, my wrists
having pushed men to drink, oh, Sugar, and I want more
than anything now to call out for my mother,
who could roll into a room with the oval of her uncut
self, who could press her palm hot against my chest
as I breathed. We exhale our imbibed sprits out
to glass, wrapping ourselves in smoke.
Harlan chews a Nicorette each time he tries to break open
a woman and she serves him only lemons. Night
is moving us through another coming winter
and we laugh quietly now to the pressure, each coming
to the cool center of our single selves, and each pressing
the other away from our own opposing bodies, where
we are drifting to our separate and yellowed hallways,
to perfume, the persistence of our missing women.