daughter measures time by how much spice she can hold
after Manasi Garg
ma, don’t you remember when i spit out my sushi
because the underside of the fish was stained
with hints of morning moss? i was young, then,
and didn’t know the word for unwanted, hadn't yet trained
myself every night to anoint my tongue with stripes of chili oil,
to coat my cheeks with ruby knives. to pretend that it didn't hurt.
truth: it hurt, it hurt so good, it hurt so much
better than i will ever be, whether i am girlhood or empty or anything
in between. ma, remember when you spit your words like sunbeams
(which is to say it hurt to hold them scorching on your tongue?
which is to say you thought i needed spice to learn
to be true and beautiful? which is to say i never learned how to cure
the burns?) read: google said guzzle milk, gulp rice, gorge on white
bread, but failed to consider that not every daughter is a painless vessel,
ready to hold heat without cleaving. read: ma, every night i learn how to swallow
the world a little better as it claws against my cheeks, gobble up garlic whole
and bursting in my throat, which is to say i have learned to bear these burning
lips so well. to shed my swollen self like a cloak against the light.
self-portrait as a met museum pigeon
for the Nanjing Massacre
the curator says that for days people could hear
the birds surrendering their tongues, mouths opening
like a bullet hole puncturing a scream-swollen throat.
in every museum, i imagine my talons snatching this muteness
from its milky marble stands, claws crushing these obsidian blades,
ashen wings seething against a slippery staircase like a city
sprouting wings. i imagine channeling ferocity
into glistening gray feathers, forcing the world to hear
how each word leaves my body and becomes a blade.
yes, i am excited for the museum opening:
garish green ribbons, lashing my people with mute
tongues. now, the world has a place to consider our throats
weapons, pour champagne into glistening glass throats
and make exhibits of our entropy. a place to let a city
dream of ruins they can never have. yet they tell us it was so muted:
women wondering where to go from here,
this rubble, letting dirt-stained sun through the openings.
they do not show us the infants with blades
blessing their stomachs, blueing; they do not tell us about how blade
means bone and meat and body, how generals wore throats
bared like brooches, how soldiers with soiled uniforms opened
beers at nightfall to celebrate the bloodletting. how for six weeks a city
blistered, burning in its own ashes. how there were no graves here,
just crows crumpling themselves into the fabric of night, mute
and withering in their soot black wings, still and muted
and unsettling in the mouth of a blade.
they do not show us this: my grandmother, ten years old, hears
a cry, and stumbles upon a mud-covered bird, its throat
unzipped like a melody. all night, rain battering the city,
beaks black with blood, falling dull and deadly like the opening
lines to a poem: these mud-slick stanzas opening
themselves into the world just enough to quell the mute
raging between the glass. the museums write an aubade to atrocity
in thick black ink, slice the pages with a smoking blade
to make it sound like history, their tepid throats
tight and throttling in its stench. try not to hear
the screeches of a scathing city, teeth blazing brittle in the winter rain.
here, on these shivering stairs, the violence daily and deadly and mute:
a blade decorating a body, a thin song shattering in our throats.
Emma Chan is a high school student who believes in the transformative and healing power of words. She serves as the Editor-In-Chief of The Hearth Magazine, a mental-health focused teen publication. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Writing Awards and the National Youngarts Foundation, and published in Eunoia Review, Kissing Dynamite, and elsewhere. When she's not writing or reading, you can find her wistfully contemplating the meaning of life and what she should have for dinner.