Mrs. Sung has a new kitchen-god.
The old one—he who has presided over the household this twelvemonth—has returned to the Celestial Regions to make his report.
Before she burned him Mrs. Sung smeared his mouth with sugar; so that doubtless the report will be favorable.
Now she has a new god.
As she paid ten coppers for him, he is handsomely painted and should be highly efficacious.
So there is rejoicing in the house of Mrs. Sung.
Not long ago, I studied medicine.
It was terrible, what the body told.
I’d look inside another person’s mouth,
And see the desolation of the world.
I’d see his genitals and think of sin.
Because my body speaks the stranger’s language,
I’ve never understood those nods and stares.
My parents held me in their arms, and still
I think I’ve disappointed them; they care
And stare, they nod, they make their pilgrimage
To somewhere distant in my heart, they cry.
I look inside their other-person’s mouths
And see the wet interior of souls.
It’s warm and red in there—like love, with teeth.
I’ve studied medicine until I cried
All night. Through certain books, a truth unfolds.
Anatomy and physiology,
The tiny sensing organs of the tongue—
Each nameless cell contributing its needs.
It was fabulous, what the body told.
Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross a sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible what someone asks—
You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.
translated by david keplinger
At night things become ever so smaller, our shoes and teeth, too, and everywhere in buildings screws turn a quarter of a revolution, but even if you press your ear against the wall, the sound is rarely heard. Always there is someone who plays the gelatin piano, someone who packs his pipe with snow, and on a radio channel from somewhere in the world, where the sun is already on its way up through the mist in the horizon: a gospel choir of hoarse, nearly inaudible women.
You want to tell everyone
that your wife’s not sick
she’s having a baby.
She may not feel great
but goddammit if she’s not healthier
than anyone in the entire hospital,
every doctor, every sad sack
fidgeting anxiously in a waiting room.
“It’s a miracle” you want to
cry out to the woman whose husband’s
downstairs having radium treatment,
the guy whose girlfriend is in a coma,
the old man whose bride of fifty years
no longer speaks his name.
You now enough that for every miracle
on this earth, there’s at least three
that are grinding their marvels in reverse,
so you keep silent.
Eventually, the nurse struts down the corridor
two steps behind her smile,
declares that “It’s a boy.”
All heads look up.
For a moment there, a tumor,
a dead brain, a blank look,
are, each in turn, a boy.
You stand at the counter, pouring boiling water
over the French roast, oily perfume rising in smoke.
And when I enter, you don’t look up.
You’re hurrying to pack your lunch, snapping
the lids on little plastic boxes while you call your mother
to tell her you’ll take her to the doctor.
I can’t see a trace of the little slice of heaven
we slipped into last night – a silk kimono
floating satin ponds and copper koi, stars falling
to the water. Didn’t we shoulder
our way through the cleft in the rock of the everyday
and tear up the grass in the pasture of pleasure?
If the soul isn’t a separate vessel
we carry from form to form
but more like Aristotle’s breath of life –
the work of the body that keeps it whole –
then last night, darling, our souls were busy.
But this morning it’s like you’re wearing a bad wig,
disguised so I won’t recognize you
or maybe so you won’t know yourself
as that animal burned down
to pure desire. I don’t know
how you do it. I want to throw myself
onto the kitchen tile and bare my throat.
I want to slick back my hair
and tap-dance up the wall. I want to do it all
all over again – dive back into that brawl,
that raw and radiant free-for-all.
But you are scribbling a shopping list
because the kids are coming for the weekend
and you’re going to make your special crab-cakes
that have ruined me for all other crab-cakes
Courtesy of CC
A real one wouldn’t need one,
but the one Nathan draws surely does:
four oblongs the size and color of popsicles,
green apple, toasted coconut and grape,
flanked, two per side, by billowing valentine hearts,
in a frame of Scotch tape.
Alive, it could stay off the floor,
for a few unaerodynamic minutes;
thrown as a paper airplane, for one or two more.
Very sensibly, therefore,
our son gave it something, not to keep it apart
from the ground forever, but rather to make safe its descent.
When we ask that imagination discover the limits
of the real
world only slowly,
maybe this is what we meant.