The universe breathed through my mouth
when I read the first chapter of patience.
I held the book away from my body
when the illustrations became life-like:
the kite flew over the grass, a child tumbled
down a hill and landed at the mouth of neon waters.
The fox curled into itself under the tree
and an eagle parted the sky like the last curtains.
I found myself wandering the forest, revising
the stories as I worked the heavens.
I lived inside the candied house
and hung the doors with sweetness.
I devoured the windows and I was greedy.
With all this sugar, I still felt trapped.
I sought to change the moral
so I filled my baskets daily with strawberry,
thorn, and vine, piled my home
with pastries and the charge of regret.
I placed those regrets inside the oven
and watched the pie rise. I wanted
everything in the pie and yearned
all the discarded ingredients.
I kept myself in the kitchen for years.
Everything up in smoke and yet my apron
was pristine, my hair done just right.
You can say it was perfection, a vision
from the past, waving a whisk through a bowl
as if it were a pitchfork. When I left the house
made of confection, that’s when I began to live,
for everything I gave up was in that house.
I remember you there. Your fingerprints vaguely
visible in the layer of flour on the table.
Copyright © 2020 Tina Chang. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.