Jane Wong's poems can be found in places such as Best American Poetry 2015, Best New Poets 2012, Pleiades, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Third Coast, The Volta, Tupelo Quarterly, and others. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Fine Arts Work Center, Squaw Valley, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She holds a MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and teaches at the University of Washington Bothell and the Hugo House. She is the author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016).
Something is About to Change Everything
At nineteen, my mother feeds a cow by hand.
She grabs its tongue and laughs like an animal
hoarding its kill. In the village next to hers,
the sound of a fire dying in the dark splits
her ear in half. Thin limbs of smoke wrap
around her little brother, crown of snakes.
She claps her hands over her ears. Leaves haul
away the wind. It is 1983 and she will be married.
My father leaves the door open
for the sun to break into.
The sun robs us of every last bit:
the dimes in the sofa,
the tendrils of a chive
in a bowl I washed
carelessly. In Swimming River,
fish huddle under lilies,
grazing off car tire grime.
In 1996, my father breaks open
a watermelon with one hand.
I have only seen my father
cry once. When the sun starts
thieving in, I pull white hairs
from my grandmother’s head
until I become a ghost.
I Will Not Tell this Story
as well as I should tell it.
Let me cut this narrative
cleanly for you: how I halve
all the avocados in the store,
shameless. If I can’t have it all,
no one else will. I’ve spent
too much time pleasing others,
so I will spit anywhere I want.
I will pick my teeth like I pick
flowers in any good mountain field.
I will fold evening how I fold
the corners of a fitted sheet –
I simply won’t. I will drink
from the polluted rain to kill
any ambling viruses.
I will spit up the cold grape
in my throat. I will make steam
rise, ugly from the grates.
You will be cleansed.
You will be grateful.
I will christen a newborn iceberg
and watch it dissipate
as each cell within me dissipates
into another. I will drop a flower
on its head and demand the ground
accept its root. I will root around
the dirt for all the worms and
return the earth back to the beginning:
atom, bacteria, sweet, sweet mudfish.
Let Us Not Forget the Tactic of Fear
This landscape is made
for hawks and gawkers.
What is more poisonous, dear
beloved country? Where
did you find this endless
supply of cheap cyanide?
By now, we should all know
that salt on a cut lip
is not necessary. And yet –
here comes the sting
and swell. It would be easier
to say I’ve learned my lesson,
but I’ve lessened from it.
These constant proofs –
are you worthy, or are you
won over, over
easy? Should I eat what
I’ve been told? Fold what role
I’ve been given: laborer?
Dishwasher? Cook? I stand
on the edge of boiling water
and laugh at the plumes.
Nothing you say can mar me.
When the day ends,
I will leave with the sun.
Return to the Beginning
What could I have asked of ritual,
of knowledge in the beginning?
My mother steps out of her dress
at my age or younger. A spider watches
her undress in spins. Small crimes,
to hold a world that was my world.
How slippery the sky, my memory,
a sickness of the ear I shake out of.
As I grow older, buildings inside of
buildings frighten me. Some years ago,
an ice storm broke the Parkway straight
in half. Yesterday, I pulled apart
a whole continent and saw ants
in the seams, building an empire.
Today, my mother is all vertigo.
She holds up her head with a deep
breath I breathe in. To call forth,
the canyon has no choice but to
open my name. Small creak
in the throat, double beat of hell:
Jane, Jane, Jane. A dark I have
not seen before opens. I walk through
this beginning echo, this head start,
the red cabbage of my heart: healthy.