you are in the diode archives winter 2011



Lessons on Lessening

In the rigmarole of lucky living, you tire
of the daily lessons: Sewing, Yoga, Captivity.
Push the lesson inside the microwave.
Watch it plump and pop and grow larval

with losses. Watch it shrink like shrikes
when they dodge out of this palatial
doom. On the sky’s torn hemline, this horizon,
make a wish on Buddha’s foot. How to halve,

but not to have—how to spare someone
of suffering, how to throw away the spare
key saved for a lover that you don’t
have, save yourself from the burning turret

with the wind of your own smitten hip.
Do you remember how girlhood was—a bore
born inside you, powerless? How you made
yourself winner by capturing grasshoppers

and skewering them? You washed a family
of newts in the dry husked summer, wetted
them with cotton swabs before the vivisection.
That’s playing God: to spare or not to spare.

In the end you chose mercy, and dropped
each live body into the slime-dark moat.
Today is a study in being a loser. The boyfriend
you carved out of lard you left in the refrigerator

overnight between the milk and chicken breasts.
Butcher a bed, sleep in its wet suet for a night.
Joke with a strumpet, save the watermelon
rinds for the maids to fry in their hot saucepans.

Open your blouse and find the ladybugs
sleeping in your navel. Open your novel
to the chapter where the floe cracks and kills
the cygnet. Study hard, refute your slayer.


My Aquarium Fantasy

Hot evening glut of jellyfish
In which we make love over and over
to the sounds of our own drowning.

In which awe drowns in hunger,
in which a swordfish floods my hip
and I beg one more for supper. Nyotaimori,

disgraceful as a delicacy, roe-cold
and slimy as the suction cups fly
over us—empty platters, mutinies

of koi. In which the laughter
of slaughter sauces our appetite
for abscess. In which I jack up

a circuit and dye my hair ultraviolet
with murex. Kelp-snare with vesicles
growing on us like cysts or pink aster.

In which we build a tank big enough
for blue whales to meet and mate.
In which we then construct a shore

to strand the whales, make illicit meats
out of them, light the lamps of our beach
with their blubbery, precious oils.


The Operation of Thunder


The boiler room in chaos. Woman on a bed,
Looking at her hands. Photograph of child

Playing inside rock garden. Child praying,
Making promises he would break.

Paper flower growing inside,
O, the blooming weed.


Girl on a bed, inflamed.
Temperature caps 102º.

She dreams of the wax museum,
The red bellicose mouths

Of succubi, lobster quasar,
Blood flint tumbling into a vat.

Imagine her wrists, a pittance.
Her skull, purple apple,
A corona.


Eviscerated thunder. Scalpel cut
Its thigh, roiling belly. It moans,

Drug-fevered. Thick tissue
Unshakeable, unexplained.
Come, surgeon, undo the thing.

Let it jolt if it needs to.
The spider crawls across the mat.
O, the prodding hands.



I am not the purple of Murasaki’s kimonos,

nor the purple of larkspur teeth
                                    nor the purple of wisteria lolling
bulbs like hung heads,
                                    nor quartz, nor amethyst,
nor discotheque, nor dance hall

I am the purple of driftwood,
                                    the dread of riots, I am the purple
of sinister soda machines,
                                    I drag the purple like a wounded unicorn
through reeds and mangrove,
                                    cities drowned in dirty apricots
I squeeze the purple
                                    from murex—I dye my hands, my skirts         
with the secretions of sea
                                    snails, smeared over thigh & hip,

How can I wring the purple from
                                    the rag, how do I dream and drown
purple—I am an ogre,
                                    grape leaves grow under my cuticles
I am not wine that is to be tasted
                                    When fermenting, I was vomiting
mackerel—O earthworm,

                                    I long to be green
I long to be the crayfish unhusking
                                    shell, let the weeds enter,
grow in my body, I am nothing  


Sally Wen Mao has work published or forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Drunken Boat, Another Chicago Magazine, Sycamore Review, and West Branch, among others. A Kundiman fellow, she currently lives in Ithaca, New York, where she is pursuing her MFA at Cornell University.