Pleasure Garden

Sally Wen Mao

小姐姐,好漂亮            daily the love notes                                            from strangers in other hemispheres                                            can I live on these every day                                            without anyone touching me—without anyone looking at my face in person                                            they don’t know the swollen                                            stone in my body, my lungs like a hagfish                                            a beat-up grin                         ∞to be a woman poet is to disconnect, despair,experience kingdom-destroying pleasure                                            at the museum I saw the hairpieces                                            of courtesans who ate raw osmanthus                                            from silver ewersthey ornamented themselves to resista promise of decay                                            but decay is just a matter of getting closer                                            to the earth                                            the worms breathing underneath all boredpunish me to lie down with my earson the soil, hear the footfallsof past lovers, a clamor of pangs                                            —whose laughter hurts the most?                         ∞in the pleasure garden, all my ex-lovers meet each othersnakes and snapping turtles bite the stems off water liliessome speak English, others can’t communicatesome will make friends, others will make enemiesby the glow of the scholar’s rocks, they guzzle sorghum wineand most of them hate poetry, so likely they’ll plot escapesome of them stay, develop an attachment to tending gardens,some of them love snapping the bonsai trees’ miniature branchessome’ll survive on catching koi, roasting all their golden scalessome’ll sleep in the orchid pavilions, argue over how to leaveand I will not touch them, I hide in eaves, stay in the lookouttower with my brass telescope, the past smudged on its lens                         ∞in the pleasure gardens, the courtesans sometimes wrote                                            carp-bitten love poems,                                            painted silk mountains, ambergris,                                            embroidered lucky bats, blue peach treesI read about them: how they destroyed their kingdoms                                            with their fatal beautyhow they rose up the ranksand bewitched their kings                                            all the regicides committed in their namesand here in my corner I’m watchingthe hot wind flog the legendary West Lake                                            bored by the supremacy of romance,                                            I eschew the water lily’s idolatrythe sight of them reminds methat I do not want to live forever

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Photo:
Sookoon Ang

Sally Wen Mao is the author of two collections of poetry, Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014). The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, she was recently a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, a Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at the George Washington University, and a Shearing Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute. Her poetry and prose have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Tin House, Poetry, Harpers Bazaar, The Kenyon Review, Guernica, and A Public Space, among others. She is a Kundiman fellow in both fiction and poetry.

Issue 35

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Peter LaBerge

Managing Editor
Garrett Biggs

Executive Editor
Heidi Seaborn

Poetry Editors
Emily Cinquemani
Kate Gaskin
Lisa Hiton
Wayne Johns
Talin Tahajian

The Adroit Journal was founded in November 2010 by poet Peter LaBerge. At its foundation, the journal has its eyes focused ahead, seeking to showcase what its global staff of emerging writers sees as the future of poetry, prose, and art.

Recently featured in Best American Poetry, Pushcart Prizes: Best of the Small Presses, Poetry Daily, Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Verse Daily, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Teen Vogue, and NPR, the journal has featured the voices of Terrance Hayes, Franny Choi, D. A. Powell, Alex Dimitrov, Lydia Millet, NoViolet Bulawayo, Ocean Vuong, Ned Vizzini, Fatimah Asghar, Danez Smith, and beyond.

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