Michelle Lin is a poet, community arts organizer, and author of A House Made of Water (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017). She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s MFA program and of the University of California Riverside’s Creative Writing program. She is a Kundiman fellow and co-curator of Kearny Street Workshop’s reading series “KSW Presents.” Recent work can be found in Underblong, The Margins, and HEArt.
Woke up in that film in that language
I don’t understand, where everything’s
translated, except for the written.
Whose home is this? What was in
the letter? As if I’ve not known
debt before or the names for it.
I think I understand—it’s that wide thing.
Like a bayou, a murmuration,
a heart surrendered with birds.
I Have Lain in the Dirt and Known this Bed
was not mine, and still turned to those
beside me. Astonishing, to cleave
our mouths with rusted spoons, and still
kiss. But now and then, a pause, the blood-
brown utensil in hand, and I am looking
at the curled down doll of my cheek
that I have curved my sleeping body down
beside as the lonely sort of comfort
my parents both relied on. What are we
eating? What remains between teeth,
builds through cavity, each pit my body
lies in to be named for someone else’s
survival? America—I thought we didn’t need you.
The thirsty dahlia we refused rosewater,
mouth left on the table between us
in a room we did not enter. I had pressed
myself to the dirt and sang quietly
to only those I loved. America—you light candles
and bracken our structures down. America—
we learned to breathe in the fire and the next
and the next and the next. America—I thought rage
would be enough to sustain us. I thought wonder,
at those who stretched themselves across the sand
and refused this name and that, those who
named themselves when you named them
dead, was what we’d anoint the newest
sun with—but again you trigger another
wick behind your back. I have lifted
my head above the tracks and looked
at the train. I have made music with the spoon
and had no words to sing. I have
a crushed hollow stem, a table felled
on one leg, this survival of some
while others don’t—America.
Ma peels pears with rock sugar
and one slice of ginger for the cold, and
the table will be there when I go home next,
and I will find it with the light, and I
will sit one more time looking, until I
blow it out. There is a faraway storm.
There is a humming between my teeth.
I let them sing dangerously
against your neck.
The first con was bleached con-
vention. Dipped in sun, the promise
that began itself, the con con-
ditional on quo: can you promise
to uplift this light as birthright, con-
trasted brighter to promise
its best survival? Modeled minor con-
scient of the con-science promise
of absolution. You are gold con-
sistently, ’til not. Better, promise!,
closer to sun (permissible, built, con-
jectured white.) From the premise:
stench of white-out at sites of con-
frontation. There is no promised
else is what I, Michelle, reject.
I’ll kill all of your idols. Promise.
no, it’s me—I say to my mother,
my father, my sisters, brother—all about me
what you do, all your wrongs as I call you
back, because this is what you’ve made
after you’ve made me your bridge, your eldest,
your ship, night terror and teacher, substitute
tongue, talisman of air between your hand
and the stranger’s, how deftly I play this game
of telephone now like a second mouth, like O
as in owance, as if everything you do is
my arm of my arm, my cry as my cry.
no it’s me—I forget that you’re human
with dreams apart from me, after all
these are just years of leaning, and tonight
I fail to write the poem, and tonight
I learn to love you better.