Fiona Sze-Lorrain: “Not Meant as Poems”


Not Meant as Poems

I. Power in a Crystal Sarcophagus

Like Kim Il-sung.
Like Marcos.
Like Lenin.

Behind his glossy face, he tears at his own skin.

take an oath
to his embalmed blood, a frozen sea
at the mercy of its sun.

He eats fear.
He rapes fear.
He sweet-talks fear.
He markets fear.

Walk in circles. No whisper. No pictures.

Are you scheming? [To kill or to shield?]
Will you go on strike? [For a safe past or future?]

No big deal.
Free your langue de bois.
No one will meddle, no army
Political tracts as state souvenir—
they cite from Time Out and the Upanishads—
free of charge,
red ones at the first checkpoint,
brown ones at the exit.

I am not a journalist
or part-time activist, I come here
on a whim, of free will.
For a poem . . .
Down with spectators!
Shame on curiosity!
Just look innocent and let the beast
and more visitors
sweating and grunting
like hippopotamuses in a private bioreserve.

II. Putin’s Dog

can’t bark.

Putin’s dog
can’t jump
from a lofty height.

Putin’s dog
can’t fornicate
with other bourgeois dogs

on a winter stroll
in the Tsaritsyno Park.

Putin’s dog
can’t beg,
but is groomed,
and fed. With what—

I have no idea, neither
does the press.

Putin’s dog
can’t fire
its master
or look sick.
It won’t suffer

beating or torture,
but can’t sleep
without having to hide.

But Putin’s dog, like
all dogs, can
(thank God)
or caca
whenever it likes.

III. Written in the Vernacular

Four a.m.
I fidget with a stone inkpot,

never empty, never filled.


Nothing in my song

Nothiindicates despair. The rain of a world
Nothiin late, organized joy.


Twofold agenda: a new strophe over the latent,

the pulse of reason writ into insufferable verbs.


Proper silence, that which is anti-point.


Without a window, the space has no weather.


List each anger—you won’t live each trial twice.


To an unseen Buddha,
a mellow discourse,
hushed talk of lay nuns
[faces opaque, like mine, like yours]
who can’t parry their belief
of an immortal system—is it about power
of an immortal system—is it aboutor morals—with or without hidden

of an immortal system—is it aboutsurveillance
two meals on weekends [usually corn flour bread],
long walks,
good deeds,
an elusive rat from chair to chair.


To quote Solzhenitsyn, Blah blah blah . . . 

Tsvetaeva, Nnh, nnh, nnh . . . 

I delete violence from words that fly too soon.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain is the author of three books of poetry, most recently The Ruined Elegance (Princeton, 2016), finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and one of Library Journal’s “Best Books 2015: Poetry.” Her translation of contemporary Chinese poet-scenographer Yi Lu’s Sea Summit (Milkweed, 2016) was shortlisted for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. She lives in France where she works as a zheng harpist and an editor.

photo credit: Captured Heart Autumn Hues via photopin (license)