Transitional Etude #1
BY JEWEL CAO
The tree outside the room I occupy is growing fungal fractals.
When both are beautiful, I fail to tell the difference between
natural and unnatural decay. Though I prefer not to nurture hope,
it’s difficult to prevent your neck from craning upwards.
For years, I have been trying to become more than an ember
flung towards the shins of men idling around a campfire.
Also, I have been trying to stop hating my mother, though who
among us has never hated their mother? I thought I’d be a writer
and then I saw my father sweep all the books off the shelf
and heard how softly they hit the floor. From then on,
I wanted to be a man. I believed men to be structured, geometric;
each night I felt fractals fuse the shells of my bones. Infectious
but necessary, they were composed of the debris of the day,
which would collect in my undergarments and refuse to be washed off.
It wasn’t long before I had formed into a dream of returning home
as something people could no longer see themselves reflected in.
But how is it possible to define yourself in relation to a moving field?
By Thanksgiving, I found myself in Chinatown buying a roast duck.
There, even the paper menu taped to the taupe wall recognized me.
The way I had to look up to read it must have been familiar.
It is discouraging to no longer grow taller, only accumulate
densities. Like sheets of glass. Leaving with two styrofoam boxes
stacked in a plastic bag, I almost stepped on a brown dog
nosing wetly at the door. We looked at each other.
Was it just as clear to him, what I wanted?
Transitional Etude #2
BY JEWEL CAO
The frostbitten legs of trees cross and uncross. From squat pipes,
smoke dragons curl into the air. Dazed clumps of sparrows
huddle on the powerlines like hair swirling above a drain.
Everything is fragile these days, my mother said recently.
It’s true, everything. If I brushed the tip of this scene with a finger,
the whole apparatus would shatter into flecks of quartz.
I like to go places like this and imagine them as my home.
It’s imperative for me to know I remain continuous anywhere,
with anyone, without anyone. In the waiting room of the clinic,
trying to remember who I’ve let touch me, and where, and how,
I think about the people who have left me for planes to California.
When the doctor’s gloved fingers slip in, my upper half detaches
like a lip from the fisherman’s hook; it goes to the sunbaked arena
where I am grasping, like a Roman Christian, two starving lions
by the muzzle. Reining one in releases the other; to master the first
is to let the second draw blood. I am finding intimacy a necessity
in the way of power lines or gas pipes or how fires spit smoke.
What I like most about you is how you love someone else.
I could leave you everything and you would give it all back.