Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Anna May Wong on Silent Films

It is natural to live in an era
            when no one uttered—
and silence was glamour

so I could cast one glance westward
            and you’d know what I was
going to kill. Murder in my gaze,

treachery in my movements:
            if I bared the grooves
in my spine, made my lust known,

the reel would remind me
            that someone with my face
could never be loved.

How did you expect my characters
            to react? In so many shoots,
I was brandishing a dagger.

The narrative was enchanting
            enough to make me believe
I, too, could live in a white

palace, smell the odorless gardens,
            relieve myself on their white
petals. To be a star in Sun City—

to be first lady on the celluloid
            screen—I had to marry
my own cinematic death.

I never wept audibly—I saw my
            sisters in the sawmills,
reminded myself of my good luck.

Even the muzzle over my mouth
            could not kill me, though I
never slept soundly through the silence.

Credit


From Oculus. Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press. 

Author


Sally Wen Mao

Sally Wen Mao is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014) and Oculus, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2019. 

Date Published: 2019-04-03

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/anna-may-wong-silent-films