Monday, September 1, 2008

Victoria Chang


What happens is it happens.
It's cheap to live here: steel frames,
railroad, asphalt shingles, advice
from other women. Their opinions

beckon October after October,
wrap like a blue shawl. Now
they're old enough to say,
I know, honey, it happens to all of us.

When he went out again
and again, in search of more
than me, my genetics told me to
bake a pound cake, his favorite,

my currency. The act of setup -
of calming a sweating mind,
spoon next to meat knife, fish
knife, oyster fork, grapefruit

spoon - of preparation.
I've always known the answers
to my own questions - cumin, curry,
mixed with spit, of what to say,

the how to of control, the where were you,
upon his return. But my tongue
always hung in its dark cave, like cement.
And I didn't know how to break it.

-first published in Massachusetts Review

On Quitting

How many times will I quit you,
how many times will you amend
me, stitch, and mend me again?

In college, I could see the world's
thirty most powerful women clearly,
now I imagine what to tell my

unborn children as they watch
his tune-ups - just minor tweaks
here and there only after I've bought

into the program. I've always
looked great on three hours of sleep,
bleeding at the eyes, away from

garden gloves, Tilex with special
bleach, from Kama Sutra's love
secrets. No winter squash, gourds,

Indian corn, pumpkins tucked in fall.
Instead, I've repositioned
my portfolio on its edge again, autumn

planters on their side from wind - too
much focus on streets and lights,
on keeping. How many times

have you found me out,
molding your lips with an industrial
tongue, noting other women's skills for

soap-making, sweeping, making ordinary
tasks enjoyable. Each time I set the table,
I move you one more seat away.

-published appeared in New England Review


The cardinal's crest, hues of spark and fire,
its body jerking

back and forth, wings ripping rapidly at air,
a machine of flesh and bone

fluttering against my car's side mirror, resting

then attacking its own image again. I had meant
to be over there -

a worker laboring in a fish commune in Guizhou,
with skin

like a silver carp and hands cut like gills, pond silt
through my vessels,

feeding parts of haddock to hake, seabream to
flounder, gathering duck feces

for feed, the fish humming in my walls at night.
I had meant to have my mother's fingers

around my throat for being a girl or meant to beat
my own daughter

with a walking stick, all the mirrors I looked into,
reflections missing.

-first publised in Kenyon Review

Edward Hooper Study I

Office At Night

Her buttocks ripen in their double hump.
She lingers by the filing cabinet. Her blue dress
wraps her body, as oceans wrap rounded cliffs.

She wishes the man at the desk were a flambeed
banana that she might nibble. One hand
lodged inside the filing cabinet, the other waits

to enter, settling against the open drawer.
The handle rubs her breast. She looks
down at the carpet, the color of an unripe

mango. His silence washes her feverish
body. As for the man, he likes how the light
mimics the mood of a hospital corridor.

He is afraid to look at her, to consider the field
between her breasts. He is frightened of her lips,
tart surface of a glossed heart. He thinks of green

ledgers with vertical red lines, commas, zeroes,
numbers lit by the banker lamp's gaseous glow.
He returns to the number eight. Its curves make

him think of her bareness, the way her body
might stiffen in fever, just for a moment, before
she falls on him, the way a washrag spreads in a basin.

Edward Hooper Study: Hotel Room

While the man is away
telling his wife
about the red-corseted woman,
the woman waits
on the queen-sized bed.
You'd expect her quiet
in the fist of a copper
statue. Half her face,
a shade of golden meringue,
the other half, the dark
of cattails. Her mouth even -
too straight, as if she doubted
her made decision, the way
women do. In her hands,
a yellow letter creased,
like her hunched back.
Her dress limp on a green chair.
In front, a man's satchel
and briefcase. On a dresser,
a hat with a ceylon
feather. That is all
the artist left us with,
knowing we would turn
the woman's stone into ours,
a thirst for the self
in everything-even
in the sweet chinks
of mandarin


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