the skin’s broken aria :: jennifer chang

I cross the street
and my skin falls off. Who walks
to an abandoned lake? Who
abandons lakes? I ask questions
to evade personal statements. When you are
skinless, you cannot bear to be
more vulnerable. With skin, I
would say I am in love with
Love
as in that old-time song
crooners like to croon. With skin,
I would wear elbow-length opera gloves
of pearly satin. Protect my skin.
Hide it. There is no skin
like my skin. How I miss it —
I miss it as I would a knitted bonnet, a
pewter teaspoon to stir sugar into hot water.
My great passion was my skin. The lover
I loved. They don’t
sell skin at Wal-Mart. And really, how
could I, humanely, buy it? Would you ever
give me your skin? This is a terrible world
we live in. There are mistakes and
batteries littering a junk drawer,
where Mother would hide my house keys and Father
would store his eyeballs. Do you know
Puccini? Do you spill silk
at the gorgeous onslaught of love, of Pinkerton’s
lurking return? Butterfly had no skin either
but you could not tell from the outer left
balcony. As I lay in a bed
of my dead skin, I dream of Butterfly
and what she could have done instead:
run away to this little room
to lose her aching voice, to listen
to the hourly ringing of bells
that is really the souring birdsong
of a child, skinned and
laughing, a child that will never be hers.

obedience, or the lying tale :: jennifer chang

I will do everything you tell me, Mother.
I will charm three gold hairs
from the demon’s head.
I will choke the mouse that gnaws
an apple tree’s roots and keep its skin
for a glove. To the wolf, I will be
pretty and kind, and curtsy
his crossing of my path.

The forest, vocal
even in its somber tread, rages.
A slope ends in a pit of foxes
drunk on rotten brambles of berries,
and the raccoons ransack
a rabbit’s unmasked hole.
What do they find but a winter’s heap
of droppings? A stolen nest, the cracked shell

of another creature’s child.
I imagine this is the rabbit way,
and I will not stray, Mother,
into the forest’s thick,
where the trees meet the dark,
though I have known misgivings
of light as a hot hand that flickers
against my neck. The path ends

at a river I must cross. I will wait
for the ferryman
to motion me through. Into the waves,
he etches with his oar
a new story: a silent girl runs away,
a silent girl is never safe.
I will take his oar in my hand. I will learn
the boat’s rocking and bring myself back

and forth. To be good
is the hurricane of caution.
I will know indecision’s rowing,
the water I lap into my lap
as he shakes his withered head.
Behind me is the forest. Before me
the field, a loose run of grass. I stay
in the river, Mother, I study escape.

read about the process

against a solstice :: jennifer chang

It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:

I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion

I’ll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I’m correcting my mistakes.

It means I don’t want to be lonely.

the skin’s broken aria :: jennifer chang

I cross the street
and my skin falls off. Who walks
to an abandoned lake? Who
abandons lakes? I ask questions
to evade personal statements. When you are
skinless, you cannot bear to be
more vulnerable. With skin, I
would say I am in love with
Love
as in that old-time song
crooners like to croon. With skin,
I would wear elbow-length opera gloves
of pearly satin. Protect my skin.
Hide it. There is no skin
like my skin. How I miss it —
I miss it as I would a knitted bonnet, a
pewter teaspoon to stir sugar into hot water.
My great passion was my skin. The lover
I loved. They don’t
sell skin at Wal-Mart. And really, how
could I, humanely, buy it? Would you ever
give me your skin? This is a terrible world
we live in. There are mistakes and
batteries littering a junk drawer,
where Mother would hide my house keys and Father
would store his eyeballs. Do you know
Puccini? Do you spill silk
at the gorgeous onslaught of love, of Pinkerton’s
lurking return? Butterfly had no skin either
but you could not tell from the outer left
balcony. As I lay in a bed
of my dead skin, I dream of Butterfly
and what she could have done instead:
run away to this little room
to lose her aching voice, to listen
to the hourly ringing of bells
that is really the souring birdsong
of a child, skinned and
laughing, a child that will never be hers.

again a solstice :: jennifer chang

It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:

I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion

I’ll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I’m correcting my mistakes.

It means I don’t want to be lonely.

pastoral :: jennifer chang

Something in the field is
working away. Root-noise.
Twig-noise. Plant
of weak chlorophyll, no
name for it. Something
in the field has mastered
distance by living too close
to fences. Yellow fruit, has it
pit or seeds? Stalk of wither. Grass-
noise fighting weed-noise. Dirt
and chant. Something in the
field. Coreopsis. I did not mean
to say that. Yellow petal, has it
wither-gift? Has it gorgeous
rash? Leaf-loss and worried
sprout, its bursting art. Some-
thing in the. Field fallowed and
cicada. I did not mean to
say. Has it roar and bloom?
Has it road and follow? A thistle
prick, fraught burrs, such
easy attachment. Stem-
and stamen-noise. Can I lime-
flower? Can I chamomile?
Something in the field cannot.