Ting Xiao by liaoqinmei



Last night I dreamt that you were peeling a pear, slowly, the green ribbon of skin unwinding and
        twirling in the air like a small ballerina. You smiled, lips wide, fingers splayed out to
        offer me a slice. I reached for it, but could not meet your hands.

I have been traveling the globe, collecting shot glasses and books
of poetry from each new place, sitting in window sills each night with a dictionary that
        never gives me the answers.

Tonight I am in a village where there is rarely a need to change the light bulbs. Summers here
tend to neglect the lamps; the coarse curtains drawn back daily,
        like a thick waterfall of hair, parted,
        to expose the naked sun that seems reluctant to sleep at night.
And here I am, my only companion a handful of dead matches and cigarette butts,
all mixed and ashy in a bowl of old pennies that are useless here.

Two nights ago, I heard music from an upstairs room. I climbed the uneven steps,
jagged as a pirate’s teeth, and there I found a piano. There was no one playing it. The music
        had stopped when I reached the top step.
        I tried to lift the lid. I wanted to caress the keys,
to leave prints of myself behind in this village that would never know my name.
        You are that old piano. The prints I left of myself on your skin have since disappeared.

Two weeks ago, I visited my mother. Her eyes have grown grey with sorrow.
She says that without my father, she cannot remember
       which side of the bed she sleeps on.
       She gave me gardenias to plant. She says I need to live with something alive. I asked her,
       Wasn’t I alive enough? and she only kissed my forehead.

At home, the paint in my apartment is peeling off the walls, falling into my shoes like
grains of rice. There is still potting soil on the throwrug; I spilt it planting my mother’s
        gardenias. Your paintbrushes
        are mixed in with my dishes, my earrings lost in the bed sheets,
the tea kettle silently eyes the coffeemaker, a pile of papers on which I write my dreams
        grows wet and brown from the rain coming in through the open window.
Another one about my mother

My mother's last dying wish is that I
have my tattoos removed. She pronounces
the words "peanuts" and "penis" almost exactly the same.

My mother says she was thinner than I am when she
was my age. My mother can twist around my words
like cherry stems on her tongue.

My mother lives by herself in a four-bedroom
house, but she is never alone. Students
mill in and out, six days a week,
Für Elise and Golliwog’s Cakewalk again
and again.

The only traits my mother passed on to me
were short pinky fingers and a temper
meant for someone twice my size. My mother
smells like apricots.

When I was eight, a baby died inside
my mother. Whatever was left of it, stayed
around to poison her. My mother is
a sewn-up hole under the surface of her navel.

My mother's hair is falling out, clumped
in the corners of our bathtub like wet leaves
in a gutter in November.
It is the river

The color of the Monongahela today
is the same as the
water you wash your paintbrushes in.

We have not spoken all morning,
I am a penny thrown down a well.
A blanket is folded with neat corners
on the futon, and I can see your bare
back arched over the kitchen table,
the pillar of bones in your spine.

I stand facing our bathroom mirror,
these scissors cutting so easily.
An oil-slick of hair
collects in the dip of the sink,
the only thing I will leave of myself.

What a memory looks like after it's been forgotten:
an empty grave, surrounded by green green grass, and
no gravestone.

What sadness tastes like in your mouth:
sour, bitter,
the seawater crashing into your lungs when you were
learning to swim,

Does regret
have a face, a body? Dark eyes? Black hair. A birthmark
the shape of Portugal on the inner left thigh. Can you sink
your fingernails
into its flesh? Scrape them along the outlines of joints,
try to save some skin, some scent.

What does leaving look like? A doorframe, the
fluorescent light of the stairwell.
The insides of your palms,
turned upward.

lately i've been thinking about us
growing old together:
and your face, the valleys
from my eyes tracing
and tracing
over the flesh again
and again.
It is hard for me to see you now

My grandmother once told me never to
drink water that has been sitting in the
kettle after it has already been boiled.
"It is bad for the heart," she said,
"once it has already boiled and cools,
it is no longer good for drinking.
Do not think yourself wasteful, pouring
the water left down the drain to fill the
kettle and boil it again."

You like that I am only twenty-one;
eighteen years behind and I've

still got my spirit,
as if it is something I'm going to

lose eighteen years from now.
If anything, it will be stolen

by a man like you who
implies that its loss is

"If You Take Me Back, I Promise I Will Never Hurt You Again"

How do you go back? How do you touch
the hands that shut the door behind him?
How do you let them tangle themselves in your hair again,
now they’re like a mermaid’s caught
in a fisherman's rough net,

and I sit and stare at my bare brown knees,
your hot regret soaking my shoulder.

You are a stranger.
You are not a stranger.
You try to friction your way back
into my heart and between my legs,
breathing words into my cheek.

All the used and dirty
dishes have been washed and put away.
It is getting light out.
You cannot stop touching the side of my neck,
the words are bleeding together:


When I was young, I used to repeat
words to myself on long car trips until they lost
their meaning. I'msorryI'msorryI'msorryI’msorry

You would have had brown eyes.

You would have been a girl who
dreamt of growing into a painter, or an
architect, and having a daughter you would name

At thirteen, you would have stood
in front of a full-length mirror, gazing
at your small mounds of white breasts,
wishing them bigger.

You would have had
your father's tall nose, and
his allergy to gladioli,
your mother's full lips, but none of her love
for words.

You would have been,
instead of these two pills, pale, I wash
with black coffee,

this heat I can feel beneath my navel.
the birds

and the birds flew

as if swarms of bees,

reminding me of

the dark speckled whiskers

on the cliff of your jaw

and the pulse of your neck.

To top