He tells me to arrive early. Perched in his throat, a raven soakedin warm milk. Finally, the sky dries into a painting.I sit on a drainpipe all morning. I am fourteen. I have achievedso little. The rottweiler next door will not eat. Instead, it catches butterflies in its mouthand lets them go. School is out for Christmas. Boys walk the tree linein the distance twirling axes. I press my palm into the snowy sidewalk—stupid angel. I wonder who saved me. My hands are cowbells at the bottomof an ocean. Here I am. Here I am. Does he even know my name? He calls me Chinaboy,he calls me son. My first words to him are Morning, sir. It’s true, we take the goodout of everything we name. Summers, I cut his grass. I paint his houseblack. No, I paint his house the same beige it was before. One day,it rains. One day, a hive of bees in his gutter makes me their king. He feeds mered meat. He watches the blood pool in my mouth, laughs at my red teeth.In his car, he paints my thigh a deep purplewhen he tells a dirty joke. I pull laughter from my mouthlike chicken bones. He tells me he had nothing to do with that girl. Nothing.I don’t ask. I bury my hands underneath my thighs. He names meafter the glow of the full moon. I look away from the window. Slowly, I take the raveninto my mouth.
“Obsession” from MASTER: by Simon Shieh.
First Published by Booth on July 26th, 2019.
Published by Sarabande Books on September 12, 2023.
Copyright © 2023 by Simon Shieh.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Simon Shieh is the author of Master (Sarabande Books, 2023), chosen by Terrance Hayes for the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. His poems and essays are published in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, Guernica, and The Yale Review, among others, and have been recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Literature fellowship and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.
“This book feels like one of a kind. . . . Master grapples with dream and memory: the song of hands in motion and the story of hands in action. This lyric and spare work is like the poet’s image of a Rottweiler holding butterflies in its mouth before letting them free. The poems can feel solitary and deliberate as ‘a sparring partner dancing to his own music.’ They can feel sensual and are poetic as ‘the water dripping off his body like missed syllables.’ Yes, I could introduce this book using nothing but dazzling excerpts. They reckon with the inexpressible. Beauty is set free from a mouth with fangs. I’m proud to select Master for the Kathryn A. Morton prize.”
—Terrance Hayes, from the Introduction
“Simon Shieh ‘speak[s] the cadence of rain,’ reminding us that ‘each of us is a scorched page, part narrative, part dream.’ A gifted poet, each line is ‘an elegant lure.’ Master is a must-read, and Shieh is one of our most exciting and promising emerging poets.”
—Sherwin Jay Bitsui, winner of the American Book Award and the PEN Open Book Award for Flood Song
“This is one of the best collections I’ve read in a while. Simon Shieh’s voice is at once crisp and singular. His lines are tight, complex, and layered; his language unspools in powerful movements, so controlled and yet full of the devastating grace that precedes a final blow: ‘shattering the bone around my left eye/the doctors called it orbital//my mistake: resting my head/on his shoulder—letting him cradle it in his arms.’ The beauty in this book is heartbreaking, brutal. Unsparing in its analysis and deconstruction of power, Master is a startling and stunning debut collection.”
—Sally Wen Mao, author of The Kingdom of Surfaces
“If you surrender to Simon Shieh’s Master, if you let your eyes grow accustomed to its voluptuous and troubling dark, you will be rewarded with a singular reading experience: merciless in its vision and craft, dripping with muscularity and sweat, Shieh’s thrilling debut will leave you breathless.”
—Ama Codjoe, author of Bluest Nude