I.Every night, we listento his favorite songs.The kind of music youwant to hear when your countryis at peace, but you’re told to diga grave in the desert sandanyway. The kind of musicthat might come from a parkedcar whose window you are toldto shatter with the buttof a black flashlight.II.No flashlight. No north star.I paint myself black and wait for himwith the lights off.He enters with a girl dressedin red lace.In the darkest corner of my shadowhe undresses her with the tipof an admiral’s sword.She makes a noise like a flutecaught in a typhoon.As he comes, he begs to see herin the moonlight, so I open my eyes—four brightcrescent moons.III.The earth makes no mistakes.Caught in the headlights, a deer’s shadowbolts for the woods.He says our bodies must bemalleable, like water. I was foolish then.When he swam through it late at night, the surface of the Pacific was like hundredsof silk blankets. He stripped them away frantically. Looking for what?I filled my lungs with water.I sang songs I did not understand.I bathed in the low tide, hopinghe would find me.IV.This is not the life I was given.One night, he walks into his housecarrying three portraits, all men.On the stereo, a woman begsa man’s forgiveness to a beatthat makes the floors tremble.In the pitch black, he lays the photoson the floor next to each otherscratches each man’s eyes outwith a knife and each timethey reappear—the whites of their eyesgrowing brighter and brighter. Furioushe puts his knife through the stereobut the woman’s voice only growslouder, more desperate.V.I don’t know what becomes of a slavewhen he falls asleepunder his master’s gaze.There is the fearthat he will talk in his sleep,that he will dream of escape.In the backseat of his car, I wrapped the fingers of my left hand around my right thumb as if I knew I would leave him. Dream of being hunted, they say, and your feet will twitch. He told me I whispered in my sleep an indecipherable language.Dream of freedom, they say, and you will wake gasping for airclutching a wingless falcon to your chest.
Copyright © 2019 by Simon Shieh
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Simon Shieh is a poet and educator living in Beijing. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Spittoon Literary Magazine, which translates and publishes the best new Chinese writers into English. Simon’s work appears or is forthcoming in Tupelo Quarterly, Muzzle, Spillway, Grist, The Journal, Passages North, and BOOTH, among other publications.
Lauren Rile Smith
Senior Poetry Editor
Cleaver is a Philadelphia-based online magazine that provides a platform for underrepresented writers and artists producing work of the highest quality.
Cleaver exists to:
- elevate emerging voices, including young adults, alongside established writers.
- showcase Philadelphia literary voices among national and international literary artists.
- develop the editorial skills of young writers through our selective internship program.
- present balanced, insightful book reviews promoting work published by small presses as well as often-overlooked works in translation.
- represent the fullest diversity of literary art for all genres and content, advancing
emerging contemporary literary forms.
Cleaver offers access to the public free of charge. Our literary quarterly is published in March, June, September, and December.
We are independent and self-funded and are grateful for support, in part, from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and Kelly Writers House.