Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Winshen Liu
What a shame
i count the faces in birth order
eight sisters in color
at this point they get
progressively more beautiful
my mother is the eldest
i knew they were beautiful before
i knew what they were
called my mother often
said she would take me to get surgery
so that i’d be click – gorgeous!
high school was a diagram of metals screwed to
bone i would have asked for
this if i wasn’t afraid instead i jumped
a hundred times in the basement for
a hundred nights my mother
still cuts my hair to save
money she has used
the same scissors on me
for thirty years the neighbors couldn’t conceive
how precious their gift
would be when my mother took it
across the ocean my youngest aunt taught me how to cut
skin tape into half-moons and stick them
on my eyelids first thing in the morning they should double
like croissant folds by mid-afternoon
when i was eighteen we were
in a booth waiting for hamburgers like the movies
my mother said look how it helped all
the pinching she had done on my nose you wouldn’t
believe how flat it was after
a haircut my hair becomes secondhand
handmade necklaces i cannot unclasp for months
i touch the ends frayed like threads a dog gnawed
the way people pick at scabs by the time i started
college stores sold precut stickers one winter
break i used them daily until i woke
with triple lids when my grandmother looked
at me for the first time
in eight years the first thing she said was
what a shame.
樹葬 (shù zàng)
You always flossed and wore collared shirts.
Did you know the ash would be white?
I expected the gray of attic labels and alley cats,
that the urn would open and pour out
the earth like shavings –
but it was lustrous.
Burned into stardust, sun sand and
moon banks, front teeth and fresh
paint, magician’s wave and cuff links.
I will burn paper money for you.
Grief is the Easter Moon lily that blooms in
an empty room. It is not the canyon
glowing, like the inside of a persimmon torn
open by thumbs, but all of the hours, and
only ever those hours, waiting for that glow.
I burn my tongue on a scallion pancake
and grief makes me take a second
bite. At the end of autumn, it sheds the lento notes
of a nocturne you’ve never heard, that I wanted
to play over the phone but didn’t, for fear
it would send you to sleep.
Author photo courtesy of author