stink eye :: cathy song

Somebody been giving you Stink Eye?
Let me tell you about Stink Eye.
Stink Eye no mean nothing
when you owe somebody money.
Pay up, girl. No be in debt.
But Stink Eye means something
when you owe somebody nothing.
Remember when Connie Mamazuka, the girl with the mustache,
grabbed your lipstick in the PE locker room
and smeared it all over her big fat lips?
Wasn’t ’cause she like your lipstick.
Was ’cause you was one cute skinny chick.
She was giving you Stink Eye all along
and you never even know it.
Now you know it
and now you watch for it.
You was always catching Stink Eye,
always crying to your mother about somebody
icing you out.
When Stink Eye is cold, it is fucking freezing,
it can make you shiver and cry,
“But Mommy, Mommy, what did I do?”
Took you long time to know
you never do nothing
but you was good at something,
something Stink Eye like try steal
not ’cause Stink Eye going use it.
Stink Eye just no like
you use it
’cause if you use it
only going make Stink Eye feel
more ugly, feel more stupid.
Easy for spot
Stink Eye coming from one mousy thing.
More tricky for spot
Stink Eye coming from some of the friendliest faces.
And you the dumb one, left dazed and hurt.
“But she seemed so sympathetic.”
Yeah, right.
Stink Eye sideswipes into you
out of nowhere
where somebody been thinking
evil thoughts about you,
wishing bad luck to blow bad breath upon you,
knock you down,
forget your words,
drop your tools,
make you sputter and drool.
Under the bed,
in Stink Eye’s room,
get one picture of you
stabbed like one pin cushion
with so many needles, stabbed
like one cactus, stabbed like one porcupine.
Stink Eye even dreams about you.
Careful of that coat you wear,
the one you blossom in, feel loved in,
the one that keeps you warm.
Stink Eye like snatch it right off you
’cause Stink Eye just no can stand to see
you look so cool.
Stink Eye wants a piece of you.
So choose to be naive, girl, or wake up
’cause Stink Eye been waiting to sit on your chest,
pounce on your flesh,
squeeze the living air right out of you,
watch you flatten like one used-up tube of toothpaste.
Suck up your goodies,
ready to gorge on your talents,
feast on your fears.
So girl, run fast, spell good, write well, add up, think quick,
talk sharp, walk pretty, jump high, throw hard, sing sweet,
leap far.
Now you know it
and now you watch for it
’cause Stink Eye gets bigger and meaner and stronger
as you get better and smarter and stronger.
Scary thing about Stink Eye,
Stink Eye always looking for more—
as much as you willing to give.

waterwings :: cathy song

The mornings are his,
blue and white
like the tablecloth at breakfast.
He’s happy in the house,
a sweep of the spoon
brings the birds under his chair.
He sings and the dishes disappear.

Or holding a crayon like a candle,
he draws a circle.
It is his hundredth dragonfly.
Calling for more paper,
this one is red-winged
and like the others,
he wills it to fly, simply
by the unformed curve of his signature.

Waterwings he calls them,
the floats I strap to his arms.
I wear an apron of concern,
sweep the morning of birds.
To the water he returns,
plunging where it’s cold,
moving and squealing into sunlight.
The water from here seems flecked with gold.

I watch the circles
his small body makes
fan and ripple,
disperse like an echo
into the sum of water, light and air.
His imprint on the water
has but a brief lifespan,
the flicker of a dragonfly’s delicate wing.

This is sadness, I tell myself,
the morning he chooses to leave his wings behind,
because he will not remember
that he and beauty were aligned,
skimming across the water, nearly airborne,
on his first solo flight.
I’ll write “how he could not
contain his delight.”
At the other end,
in another time frame,
he waits for me—
having already outdistanced this body,
the one that slipped from me like a fish,
floating, free of itself.

adagio :: cathy song

She lifts her hands
like seagulls above the keys,
the stubborn teeth of notes
she must sink and rise into,
giving herself to music.
Music met most days with resistance,
small fingers confined to a drill of steps.
Every good boy does fine.
All cows eat grass.

This is going nowhere,
I can hear her sigh.
I know.
I’ve been there.
I can see where I jumped
into air, mid-flight
up those stairs, places
where I played hooky,
shot pool, smoked a cigarette.
Passages where Mrs. Dorothy B. Chang scribbled
Adagio! Slow down!, underscored Control!
Another week without a gold star
to stick in the margins
like a pin on my father’s lapel.

Silence, a sleeve I wanted to pull myself through
my head, spun wire, a beehive,
reeling from the racket swarm of black notes,
as the algebra I was plagued with that year.

I want to play like you
says my daughter: Fast and Furious.
Already I can hear it.
Heart and Soul, Chopsticks, and Liberace.
Her schoolbag a heap on the floor,
her hairbow a limp corsage.
She wants to give herself to music
if the giving can be as uncomplicated
as the wanting will let her have it.

What do I want?
Someone to sing to me in the hour before supper?
Long hours I sang for my father.
The collapsed chords,
green and sour,
chilled a quiet room.
My father thumbed the pages of the newspaper.
My mother stirred the soup, and waited.

The late afternoon light,
in the still life of memory, burnished gold
the pitcher of water, the simple
plates set on the table, the unblemished apple.
I take the apple out of the moment
as if to place it in my daughter’s hand,
good girl, good little girl.

One day after years of lessons
the treble clef trellised like a grapevine
along the musical wire,
the notes ripening into sound
pure and sweet and round—
my father put aside his reading
and shifting in his chair
he closed his eyes and listened.

ikebana :: cathy song

To prepare the body,
aim for the translucent perfection
you find in the sliced shavings
of a pickled turnip.
In order for this to happen,
you must avoid the sun,
protect the face
under a paper parasol
until it is bruised white
like the skin of lilies.
Use white soap
from a blue porcelain
dish for this.

Restrict yourself.
Eat the whites of things:
tender bamboo shoots,
the veins of the young iris,
the clouded eye of a fish.

Then wrap the body,
as if it were a perfumed gift,
in pieces of silk
held together with invisible threads
like a kite, weighing no more
than a handful of crushed chrysanthemums.
Light enough to float in the wind.
You want the effect
of koi moving through water.

When the light leaves
the room, twist lilacs
into the lacquered hair
piled high like a complicated shrine.
There should be tiny bells
inserted somewhere
in the web of hair
to imitate crickets
singing in a hidden grove.

Reveal the nape of the neck,
your beauty spot.
Hold the arrangement.
If your spine slacks
and you feel faint,
remember the hand-picked flower
set in the front alcove,
which, just this morning,
you so skillfully wired into place.
How poised it is!
Petal and leaf
curving like a fan,
the stem snipped and wedged
into the metal base—
to appear like a spontaneous accident.

the white porch :: cathy song

I wrap the blue towel
after washing,
around the damp
weight of hair, bulky
as a sleeping cat,
and sit out on the porch.
Still dripping water,
it’ll be dry by supper,
by the time the dust
settles off your shoes,
though it’s only five
past noon. Think
of the luxury: how to use
the afternoon like the stretch
of lawn spread before me.
There’s the laundry,
sun-warm clothes at twilight,
and the mountain of beans
in my lap. Each one,
I’ll break and snap
thoughtfully in half.

But there is this slow arousal.
The small buttons
of my cotton blouse
are pulling away from my body.
I feel the strain of threads,
the swollen magnolias
heavy as a flock of birds
in the tree. Already,
the orange sponge cake
is rising in the oven.
I know you’ll say it makes
your mouth dry
and I’ll watch you
drench your slice of it
in canned peaches
and lick the plate clean.

So much hair, my mother
used to say, grabbing
the thick braided rope
in her hands while we washed
the breakfast dishes, discussing
dresses and pastries.
My mind often elsewhere
as we did the morning chores together.
Sometimes, a few strands
would catch in her gold ring.
I worked hard then,
anticipating the hour
when I would let the rope down
at night, strips of sheets,
knotted and tied,
while she slept in tight blankets.
My hair, freshly washed
like a measure of wealth,
like a bridal veil.
Crouching in the grass,
you would wait for the signal,
for the movement of curtains
before releasing yourself
from the shadow of moths.
Cloth, hair and hands,
smuggling you in.