Lotus Flower Kingdom
BY STEPHANIE CHANG
Recipient of the 2021 Adroit Prize for Poetry
Selected by Carl Phillips
after Ren Hang
Sunday catch. I do the honors. I harvest the lily pads.
The lily pads exploding like funguses. They break the surface tension.
Between your breasts. Redswim and gunblot.
Outside the soldiers shoot swans up against glass.
Hands up. Hot resin. Let the windows petrify their shape into permanence.
I clean the shit blemished at the bottom of the Dim Sum fish tank.
I am paid in fox-thieved pulses. I tempt life to lust after me.
A daughter is best described not as the object
of desire but the verb. The kingdom has a capital
punishment worse than death. Pelted bones. When the body is bludgeoned
to nothing but its desires. Organs crying cellophane. The Dim Sum ladies
gossip about my father. Call him a public menace. Made of the sport
of swans. Verdant tongue. He was found dead in a fish tank. Unbearable
lotus flower, he would say, sopping in shit, we are not so lucky
this time. The first time I loved someone. I thought I was ready to die.
Hours piling on hours. I swallowed. Ginkgo leaves. Bit the heads
off orchids. Monkey face. Moth. Boat flower. Traded nipples for pistils.
Violets to violence to violence. I dreamt of threading my spine through the eye
of a storm. My hands thunderstruck into salute.
When I woke I had already been playing dead for so long
I became a kingdom of flowers and a kingdom of fangs.
I jester. I the king of my own perfect crime. I flower to no end.
Film Reel Sunken in River
BY STEPHANIE CHANG
My first love was on screen, the heroine they exorcised
out of a dumpling, still steamy & wanting. Cavity
& nothing to fill it with. My father says maybe—
the girl is taking off her shirt—we should watch
something less gory. This was his greatest act of love:
translating horror movies so I learn every way
I can die in Cantonese. In one movie, the girl is also
a ghost. She pounds wooden screws into mooncakes
because she wants to see what a nipple looks like.
As a child I hated the movie where a man visits
the temple, pisses all over the foo dogs. They leave
his body bloated & boneless. They make a run for
the camera. Another where there’s a wedding. Almost.
There are schoolgirls dancing on firetrucks &
wildflowers spilling out of their skirts & boys
below to paw at bouquets. Can you believe it,
flowers in Hong Kong. Flowers that aren’t smoke-eaten,
special effects. On this highway. I love the bride.
Shit. I love the bride. Her boyfriend dies in a gang war
but I don’t have the heart to tell her. All I can do is hand her
the knife. Sharpen it on every source of light
in this city. All I can do is take off her dress with my teeth.
Then the story where summer reaches up to my waist
in roaches: you tell me I come from women
you find on billboards, that being the first to die
in American slasher movies was always in my blood
to begin with. Fine. I turn. I scream & the movie
is as good as over. Tomatoes rotten & all the male actors
dead at the crime scene. I follow the camera to the red
carpet & my father pretends not to know me.
I sound check. The cold velvet of the credits rolling—
anyone would mistake for a cry for help.
The Sea Goddess, Mazu, Falls in Love
BY STEPHANIE CHANG
This time, I mistake water for wound, moon for curdled milk.
The headlines say the heron harpooned herself into a girl.
Here, she plays cat’s cradle with the powerlines, her eyes
unzipped from their sockets. I explain—there are oceans
we call Oceans, women who love women. There are a thousand
ways to debone a body. She bares teeth. Her eyes are rows
& rows of dead coral, Victorian shipwrecks tangled in tow.
Limerence our native language. Our bodies are twin shrines
that flower into sunfish, two synonyms for survival. I fish
barnacles from her beak, preheat the ocean floor. I am tired
of being lukewarm & laced with chlorine. We pretend
we are our past lives, the ones I wept into bone, salt-sheened
in their leaving. I wear a flood to our wedding, kiss the heron’s
face into foam. How her hymen resembles a jellyfish straddling
the shore. Oh, how easily pretty things become mine.