Back to Issue Twenty-Five.

Conversion Therapy

2018 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


When the bullet baptizes itself
in her body, my grandmother

mourns down the moon, dissolves it
on her tongue like a wafer. The night

a missionary fathered my father, nai nai
opened her legs like scissors

cutting along our dotted
bloodline. With her teeth she tore

the spines from bibles
bled open on the bed. In church

she worships a virgin. At home she hangs
her hymen on a bedside hook, blood

a mirror between her legs. The missionaries
fisted pews out of mud & preached

to pigs, taught us to brush our teeth with mint
leaves & chew 21 times before swallowing

fruit pits, priest’s seed. Nai nai feared both
would make her belly grow. The old gods

fell as rain. Nai nai collects
her blood in spoons, blesses my sweat

into holy water, says grace
is the god guitaring our ghosts.

Says marriage is between husband
& knife. Between mouth & drought. Between

the garden I’m gouged from & the Father
funded to feast on me. He skins me

before a fire, tautens a blonde
hide over my bones, teaches me

to burn is the body’s oldest belief.


Look me in the thigh. The arrow
I’ve lodged there, domestic as a wife.
I confess to castling the lady

in her tooth-bright tower. I can’t
resist how she sings to me. I circle
her tower nightly, hurl myself

bone by bone through her window.
We sweep the shatter with our tongues.
I unthread my cape & rebraid it

into rope. We escape down
our spines & into a forest
biblical with birds bleaching

to salt in the moonlight. We lick them
into flight. I chop off my breasts, my fat
ringed like a tree. I count the years in cages

I’ve broken into. The bars
I bent out of tune. Pleasure
our priesthood, prayer the key

my mouth unlocks to. My grandmother
dances ash down my throat, sews a steak
knife into my hand. Tells me to sever

each finger that enters me. I wear
a thimble of spit. I’ve spent a year
undressing you, I kiss off your buttons

& swill them with salt. My grandmother
says girlhood is an exercise
in control. I’m closer to a theory

of loss. My grandmother staples me
to a souvenir cross, what the missionaries
gave out with sacks of rice: hunger

mortgaging my mouth. Appetite
is insurance. When my wrists bleed
wine, drink holy of me. Free’s

not what I’m paid to be.


On TV, nai nai watches the gay pride
parade. Says she’s never seen so many
white people without clothes

on her island, the missionaries beat native
boys for going to school without shirts.
How they flayed the brag of their brown

til the bone showed, sudden as the sky
between clouds. Here the pews fleshed
from my thighs, the church organs

harvested from corpses.
Every Sunday, the croon of nai nai’s
callused nipples. It was her job

to nurse the missionary wives’ children.
While my father suckled on the udders
of guns & knuckles of sugarcane, nai nai

fed american mouths, her milk black
with flies. Above, the sky scythed through
the roof. The sea shredding itself

to tongue-sized pieces. Nai nai mutes
the channel & two men dye their beards
in each other’s mouths. Two women tie the knot

in each other’s nooses. Gay marriage legalized
before my grandmother. Instead of papers
nai nai owns a bible in every language she was

beaten not to speak. Instead
of a pension, nai nai donates her name
to god, repairs the roof

with a prayer for rain, adopts
church like the child
she was never
allowed to raise.




2018 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry


for Agong

In Chinese, ghost rhymes
with expensive & mother

misspends her mouth
on prayer with no payback, no god

bending our sky like a back.
What a daughter costs

a mother must pay
out of body: she reaches

into her blood
like a wallet, a wound

we eat out of. She says
one man’s daughter

is another god’s revenge: a river
lassoes our local church & my body

expires mid-prayer.
I wear my blood

as bracelets & go sleeveless
on Sundays. When rain reaches

my knees, I stitch the flood
my miniskirt. We will all be better

mothers than our mothers. Call this
belief. When I microwave my mouth

a prayer boils over. My tongue
tides. Mother heaps a houseful

of salt on our family altar, fills
a bath & stripteases, teaches me

to do the dead
man’s float. In a church

made of bone, I boil
a broth of fathers.

I season my wounds
& wear them aloud

I pile salt into an anthill & call it
home. When it floods, we flee

on the backs of our brothers.
We each a queen. We seek

sweet things, eat our gall
bladders seasoned in sugar.

Agong dies after dinner, bladder
come loose like a coin purse, piss

scattering like pennies
on the bed. I make a wish. I fork

open his eye & call it a flood.
Call a river a phoneline, my voice snipped

into silences. There is no country
we can afford to bury our dead.

Mourning, too, is an economy
of light. It was day when he died

& dark when I miscarried a moon
into the wrong country’s night.

We burned paper Chinese
money & it was the first

time I’ve seen my face
on something worth

something. No one tells me
why we capitalize God

but never ghost.
Never grieve.





2018 Gregory Djanikian Scholar in Poetry
Previously appeared in Muzzle Magazine

How our bodies domesticate
disaster: by swallowing

another country’s rains. By reining
my jaw to the sea, my bones

lurched into boats. My breasts bitten
into apples. My mother says

women who sleep with women
are redundant: the body symmetrical

to its crime. Between your knees
I mistake need for belief

in a father figure: once, we renamed
our fathers by burning them

out of our bodies, smoking the sky
into meat. I have my father’s name:

張, meaning archer.
I consider coming clean

through you like an arrow. I consider
the way we shape in bed, like the sea

has revised its shoreline & we must
move to meet it. This country calls

your body a hypothesis
it will kill to prove. Along the borders

of my bed, I plant a field of green
cards, flowers thirsting into throats.

I translate my wounds back
into weapons. I suck your name like a sweet

teat, pickle my tongue to outlive
its language. When I kiss you, I remember

every silence begins inside
a mouth. Everything edible

begins as a bird. At night, birds
peck peepholes into the dark

the way I have always watched
women: in the distance

between a girl & herself
is an entire body

bull’s-eyed, arrowed
holy. A girl castling

her voice into a throat
of stone. I kiss you & forget

to turn on the dark. I taste
salt afterwards, trace

where light through a window
veins your body, its wanting

to reroute your blood
someplace safe.


K-Ming Chang is nineteen years old and lives in New York. Her chapbook PAST LIVES, FUTURE BODIES is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press this fall.

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