Back to Issue Thirty-Nine

Lotus Flower Kingdom


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



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



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.


Stephanie Chang (she/they) is a freshman at Kenyon College and recipient of the S. Georgia Nugent Award in Creative Writing. Her work appears in The Adroit Journal, Waxwing, Kenyon Review, Penn Review, Peach Magazine, and diode poetry journal. Currently, she edits for Sine Theta Magazine and reads for Muzzle Magazine.

Next (Delilah Silberman) >

< Previous (Editor’s Note)