不 / No
BY ERIC YIP
How the word stands like an inverted tree,
a refusal to obey the laws that birthed it.
Or is it a proper tree 木 with its top
chopped off? All my life I’ve wondered
if my brain’s inverted, improper, asterisked
with defects. Be honest bro, you straight 直
or bent 攣? Bent like a branch or straight
like a trunk? Like a man? You like men?
Ma said Don’t stand slanted 歪 like a girl.
歪 like 不正. Not proper. A man’s spine
should be trunk-strong. Once, after a fight,
she sat me down with a cup of fig soup.
Tell me you’re not like those defective men.
I looked her straight in the eye and said no.
BY ERIC YIP
My father never said I love you but gave me
his name. Like any word, I carry it on the border
of my tongue, its wide, flat sound, opening
like a book revealing its wings. 葉—leaf—
I wonder if it means I am destined to fall
from decrepit trees into another century
where the father of my father, half-dazed with beer,
beat him with the blunt end of a wire hanger.
This is how a leaf bruises. Now I see
the wound of autumn, the fist hurled against
my mother’s face three years into marriage.
It was her who sculpted the body of my name:
晉—to move forward—against the pull of fate,
the failings she witnessed, and 瑋, rare type
of jade, like the bangle clinging to my mother’s
bleached wrist, worn on the left so it is closer
to the heart. When I was six, I saw a leaf crushed
on stone-cold steps to the columbarium,
where I watched my father kneel before faces
estranged by time, thin wisps of incense smoke
our only thread to the dead. Have you ever heard
a man weep in the language of his past?
It is summer: the trees are remembering
green again. I root myself in this life, the only life
I know—a son who has not yet learned his lesson
of how to grieve, or why.
BY ERIC YIP
after Natalie Linh Bolderston
痛錫 [caring pain]
1. Your mother scrapes her tongue / on fishbone / so you can eat / the fleshiest cheeks
2. Cobbler in the square / hammering newness / into leather soles
3. Wet haze / of the locker room / he pulls the splinter out / from your bench-bruised palm
4. In white fields / of tear gas / a figure hands you / a bottle of water / a piece of themselves
5. Rice on the altar / ancient taste / of reverence / growing colder
痛苦 [bitter pain]
1. Your mother’s kidney stones / dead calcium / refusing to dissolve
2. Tarmac torn / to shredded petals / gunfire running / legs rolled / into a carpet of red
3. Leaving his room / the lamp overheated / his father tells you / to never touch his son again
4. A rubber bullet / commands itself / with purpose / into a reporter’s right eye
5. Your grandmother arched / over her bed / her husband’s bones / urned in her arms
痛悔 [remorseful pain]
1. Dreams of other lives / folded and shelved / to make room for you
2. The next morning / commuters on bicycles stare / at the new absence / of bodies
3. Slamming down the phone / after you hear his voice beg / your name
4. Immigrating / into another language / where hurt is easy / to pronounce
5. Grasping at photos / knowing / they will never be enough
1. Jade pendant / hugging your chest / listening to the pulse / you inherited / from every death
2. A mother kneels in the square / holding the face / snatched away / by soldiers
3. After two shots / you leave the party early / a face that looked / too much like his
4. In the empire / of history / forgetting is always easier / than remembering
5. Feeding your grandmother / fish congee / for the first / and only time
相 / Photo
BY ERIC YIP
To photograph someone is a subliminal murder,
says Sontag. I believed this. It is known a camera
will steal your soul. How it is first to eat at
restaurants, my mother snapping up dumplings, rice,
a bed of choy sum. Scentless, 2D, each meal
collaged in a Facebook album. Reading Berger, I
wonder if the aperture is a starved eye that needs to
be fed. My mother takes more photos now—not of
food, but portraits: my grandmother in her care
home, clutching a bag of oranges. Her steel-ribbed
walker, X-rays of her chest. There’s a video of her
slurping fish congee, flashing smiles for her
daughter, a fragment I replay as I enter her ward,
my camera the only machine that can save her.