This poem was originally published in the Winter & Spring 2021 issue of Poetry Northwest. Read Angie Sijun Lou’s discussion of this poem as part of our One More Thing feature.
The last words my uncle spoke formed a request for the breathing machine to be unplugged.
I don’t know the precise lexicon he used.
I was not there. I was intraversibly far away, oceanically absent: 远隔重洋.
It was the first day of a new year. I had gone on a long run to find the end of a long trail.
It would take all day to go there, to come back.
At the end of a long trail: a freeway, a rose bush.
(The brain has a dull awareness of its own flicker, like the dimples of a horse with no intention of loving you.)
That night, a lover cut my hair while I smoked. I lied to him and said a rose bush had pricked me.
Many years ago, before I was a tiny ball of plasma, my father took a train into the desert to visit my uncle, who was imprisoned in a labor camp in Qingpu.
Four of my uncle’s girlfriends were also aboard this train.
Magnolias blossomed in the courtyard, their colors bled as the train lurched forth.
(Is the train a phallus, or a crucifix)
Slowly, over the course of the ride, the girls and my father discovered they all were visiting the same man.
The girls each became enraged.
They fought over who he loved the most, who had seen last before he had gone, who he wrote to with the greatest frequency—
They compared the dates on their letters. He had written to each of them on the same day.
They counted the characters on their letters.
All precisely the same length.
(A true communist is one who believes in unilateral longings, universal particulars over particular universals.)
One of them reached across the aisle and grabbed the hair of another, and tore out a fistful of crumpled black.
My father looked listlessly at his lap. The train did not stop, it barreled into the night like a fetus.
Outside, the summer was only beginning to blossom.
Summer, at once, a field of violated water, or:
the violet energy of bruises.
Girl A has a birthmark in the shape of a fist. Girl B sleeps with her fist in her mouth.
The object of your desire, the lost object, comes closer for inspection—
Girl C looks at the oxen in the meadow, their strong muscles glinting in the muddy silt.
—of course, the aura of you is you. You traverse ruins, or monuments after their symbolism has dripped away—
Girl A tears her letter to shreds, tucks the shreds inside her panties. Girl B gets off at the next station, waits three days until the next train home.
—and the obliqueness of seasons, how each rain is lit with the end of another—
In Shanghai, Girl D bathes herself in tar, lays down under a flaccid sun.
—how do I make space for a lack? how do I make space for a lack?
Girl E, there is no Girl E.
I think about the tufts of hair which were pulled out.
the material trace, a longing for singularity. Transports you beyond the realm of signification into?
Happiness. I. Thou. You. Me.
His last words meant death was a desire he had chosen. That dying was the lack. Then, now, here: dying all over the place—
I believe in the power of small distances uncoiling
into landscapes, lacunas that puncture and recurse us
to an origin point, which is a vanishing point,
which is a swan’s heart beating inside of a Ziploc bag. Time.
In its empty homogeneity, the cessation of living
things: dark, really dark, almost light. It has taken me 26 years to end this poem. Boredom
is not a cause of death, but the ennui which fills
the blackened seed.
Angie Sijun Lou is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Her work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, FENCE, Black Warrior Review, the Adroit Journal, the Asian American Literary Review, Hyphen, the Margins, and others. She is a Kundiman Fellow, a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California Santa Cruz, and a calculus instructor at San Quentin State Prison. She has received fellowships and support from the Vermont Studio Center, Millay Colony, and the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference. She lives in Oakland.