Sunday Stroll Through the Marriage Market
BY SALLY WEN MAO
Old women kneel in the square with open umbrellas, their granddaughters pinned to the nylon. Osmanthus trees, summer-buttered, torn—an August afternoon in the People’s Park. Sky overcast, the pink Shanghai smog a heavy quilting for the scrawls, damp printouts laminated, taped to each shelter: height, weight, measurements—Woman. Born 1990. Raised here. Educated in London. Speaks three languages. Virtuous. 1.60m. Hobbies— cooking. Playing with children. Flying kites. Virtue, the glint inside you turning dark. Man. Born in 1981, Hangzhou. Good job at a banking firm. 175 cm tall. Needs a caring, devoted wife, preferably born in 1980s. A strange man stares, asks you if you’re “looking.” You shake your head, I’m just a tourist. No, I am not alone. One truth, one lie. Lotuses scoff under the stone bridges, so pink you wonder if touch draws their blood. A lotus is not alone on its wet saucer—roots always connected to another’s blooming, another’s dying. Today you are not connected to anything. Another man offers to draw your portrait. So beautiful, he says. Are you married? You sit on the concrete as he touches a spot of graphite, forming eyes, a nose, a mouth you cannot recognize.
BY SALLY WEN MAO
小姐姐,好漂亮 daily the love notes from strangers in other hemispheres can I live on these every day without anyone touching me —without anyone looking at my face in person they don’t know the swollen stone in my body, my lungs like a hagfish a beat-up grin ∞ to be a woman poet is to disconnect, despair, experience kingdom-destroying pleasure at the museum I saw the hairpieces of courtesans who ate raw osmanthus from silver ewers they ornamented themselves to resist a promise of decay but decay is just a matter of getting closer to the earth the worms breathing underneath all bored punish me to lie down with my ears on the soil, hear the footfalls of past lovers, a clamor of pangs —whose laughter hurts the most? ∞ in the pleasure garden, all my ex-lovers meet each other snakes and snapping turtles bite the stems off water lilies some speak English, others can’t communicate some will make friends, others will make enemies by the glow of the scholar’s rocks, they guzzle sorghum wine and most of them hate poetry, so likely they’ll plot escape some of them stay, develop an attachment to tending gardens, some of them love snapping the bonsai trees’ miniature branches some’ll survive on catching koi, roasting all their golden scales some’ll sleep in the orchid pavilions, argue over how to leave and I will not touch them, I hide in eaves, stay in the lookout tower with my brass telescope, the past smudged on its lens ∞ in the pleasure gardens, the courtesans sometimes wrote carp-bitten love poems, painted silk mountains, ambergris, embroidered lucky bats, blue peach trees I read about them: how they destroyed their kingdoms with their fatal beauty how they rose up the ranks and bewitched their kings all the regicides committed in their names and here in my corner I’m watching the hot wind flog the legendary West Lake bored by the supremacy of romance, I eschew the water lily’s idolatry the sight of them reminds me that I do not want to live forever