DEFENSE MECHANISMS, by Kristin Chang

Kristin Chang has been published or is forthcoming in Tinderbox Poetry, The Margins (Asian American Writers Workshop), Connotation Press, and elsewhere.  She has been nominated for Best New Poets and Best of the Net.  Located at kristinchang.com, she is currently on staff at Winter Tangerine.


at the contra costa west county detainment center in richmond, CA

for nine months, my father is a body with the blood chased out. for nine months, my father is a stir in the grass, a boy whittled down like a cross. for nine months, it does not rain. for nine months, my father repeats the legend of the gourd princess, the girl born between two estates, the girl we cleaved in two, the girl we killed to keep. for nine months, my father watches his body become a rumor of him. for nine months, my father rinses his mouth with piss. for nine months, my father writes no letters. for nine months, my father carries his language in him like a dead infant. for nine months, my father tears the light in his cell to bandages. for nine months, my father says our names in the dark. for nine months, my father reverse-engineers his body, finds nothing but a burnt-down fuse. for nine months, the guards call him their chink, slit his eyes with their flashlights, tunnel his throat with their nightsticks. for nine months, my father burns his beard like incense. for nine months, my father shrinks around his spine until I can hilt his body in one fist.


anatomy lesson

I built myself like a war exhibit : inside my mother’s body : is an anthill on fire : is heat : like a fever : knowing exactly : what parts of you : to kill : the god that sets down your body : and walks away : pray : to be a more original victim : originally, there was no eve : only eve’s asian half-sister : who unkneaded adam : with her bare hands hueing : a new path home : is where my father : planted himself like a knife : my father homing : in my hips : like shrapnel : america left : 80 million unexploded bombs : in laos : my grandmother says every heart : is a flightless bird : according to history : there has never been a species : that evolves toward flight : so I swallow a sparrow : let it feather my teethgaps : beakbright my piss : I decide to leave : my body for better weather : fly south : to laos : bombs bedded : like women : I learn distance : is just another way to measure : impact : I remind myself : to water the battle : ground into a garden : to press my ear to every wound : and hear it hum : itself a home


defense mechanisms

unbury the sword     from my side     suck it like a thumb     I     don’t want a family
    I want a fire     I want to smoke     the bones out     of my thighs     shoot     them
out of a rifle     move a ghost through     your mouth     and it’ll     come     out a
rain     bake your cheeks     in a pan     and they’ll     rise like the scars     of
birth   have you ever seen   your mama naked   the doctor   once   panned her blood   for
gold   found nothing   but her heart   a big apple   of beef   sometimes I kill   the
squirrels in my yard     by feeding     them     my earrings     bury them   by the dozen
    water them   into trees   they say cruelty   is our finest trait   I like the idea   of a
Great Wall     a way to amass     your dead     to     pretend ruin is the end     goal     in
Chinese zoos   you can watch a tiger   fell a deer   as long as you pay   for the deer   this
    country     prefers me     dear     as a doll     in the window of a butchershop
    is a flank so fresh     it mistakes     the shimmy of a blade     for a     mothering
bone     at night     the     neighbor boy and I     hunt for moths     by lighting up
the doghouse     moths are attracted     to what hurts them     the neighbor boy writes     me
letters     that start     dear empress     let me taste the slant of your     eyes are my alibi
one day     I’ll bat my eyes     into outerspace then eat the bat     woodshards
slanting out of my             belly
I       quill me       into     the most dangerous       thing I know


US-Born Pandas Experience Culture Shock in China: refuse local food, don’t understand Chinese

Mei Lun and Mei Huan’s names
come from a Chinese idiom meaning
something indescribably beautiful
and magnificent

Mei Lun and Mei Huan
don’t seem to care for Chinese food
don’t understand the local language
do not respond when spoken to

Mei Lun and Mei Huan
do understand some English commands
such as come here and
leave here

51,000 American people voted
to choose their names. Adorable and cuddly
animals have helped China build diplomatic
relationships with the United States

China stopped sending pandas
as free gifts in 1982. All the bears
given since
have been on loan

all light is buried
where it breeds. all
bodies are different
acts of the same goal

survival: when the body exceeds its job
it becomes part of an agenda. China
shoots another dog into space. at a distance,
every planet is a pupil drowning in its eye

between my mother and I,
a river where we scatter
seeds for a sea: fish bones,
registration numbers, shrapnel

skating the skin.
according to national geographic,
homing is the process of animals
returning to their birthplace to breed

or die. in my mother’s country
there is only rain that dreams
itself into our mouths, only guavas
that grow grenade pins. what only

animals know is that haunting
holds even the bones who leave
their hosts. that a body
can only return to itself,

take back what is theirs.

 

Text from first four stanzas comes from the ABC news article “US-Born Pandas Experience Culture Shock in China” and the Daily News article “US-Born pandas refuse food, don’t understand Chinese”


Outcall #

The news will say I sold my body
as if it were ever mine to sell. Deduct

my mouth from my mouth
and it is a buttonhole, unbutton

my eyelids and my eyes flock out
like crows of steam, unrope his hands

from my neck and bow
-tie them around my ribcage,

I confess I wanted to crack
open like a window. I wanted

to twist out all my teeth
and put them in his shoes

like rocks, a pain
to feel later. At night

I dream every
beddable body bled

out into a bowl. Every hour
loosens like a molar

and gnaws you into its
shape. Remember

the summer I blindfolded
my father’s rifle and kissed

a boy behind his barn?
How I punched him later

for calling me his girl
gook, I confess I only

wanted the proof
of after: a bruise to find

in the morning, or my teeth
a row of broken

-in houses, a moan
taped over my mouth,

any evidence of my body
keeping alive

its crimes, any evidence
that the body bends

not only to break. The rooms
below us will imagine

a stampede of wild ponies
or a river with a punched

-in mouth, outside
the cop car like a fist-dent

in the dark, the TV playing
latenight news Massage Parlor

Busted For Prostitution Ring
Every Girl Deported my

greencard flickers between
his teeth like a past meal’s

meat and I wet the bed
into a lake, I open my thighs wider

and a planet slips out. In the morning I
hang it in the sky like a harvest moon

watch it carve its boon: my flesh
fulling in a field, my melonbelly,

my hips sawed to handholds,
the hole he made in me

clean as a coin.


Outcall #

I am naked and not even
that is the truth.

Outside the motel,
the trees perform a trust fall,

the sky bloodies with birds
and I swallow my left hand,

the one I put on a leash
for the neighbor boys to pet

and name. When he leaves
me like a stolen car,

I remember the rules: never
ask about his son,

about your age now,
actually. What’s closer to god:

thirst or confession?
Confession: I once dropped

my tongue like a handleless blade
Confession: at night I

borrow your mother’s tongue,
I filet it nice, I take a bath in the juices

I eat it, then dream in circles about
selling myself for an electric flyswatter

and then growing flywings,
this is evolution saying my death

has already happened, when I was born
the doctor

diapered me
weighed me

then drew me a chalk outline,
told my mother she’ll

grow into it. Some animals
learn camouflage or play dead,

I learn to sleep on my back
so I can look every man

in the mouth. In the morning,
a heelprint where my bed should be

Peepholes where my eyes should be