BY CHRISTINA IM
Runner-Up for the 2017 Adroit Prize for Poetry
Sunset High School, ’18
Selected by Safiya Sinclair
Summer again and again in my head.
This time I’m ready for everything.
I anglerfish. I terrify. I skin-search only
at the bottom of the pool. Say
I’m looking for a mouth
to cover my mouth. My eyes
are in a bag. The bag slants open and I
a little lantern. Tarnished. Grinning.
Below my floorboards, a gun
translates: anyone would turn yellow
in this heat. I plague doctor. I immigrant.
Masked for no one’s sake. Words for hands
—all the better to kill me with.
Chaos theory puts me in every iteration
of the fall of this country. Chaos theory
gives me the trigger. Holds my breath.
I am the native speaker of so much blood.
Of all the wrong angles a body can learn
inside its own echo. Washed out. Any body
as long as it floats. Any body as long as
I’m the one to put it to words.
I good soldier. I puppet. I puppeteer.
I’m tired. My fingers, I watch them shake.
All I want is to make something
and never have to touch it again.
MEANWHILE IN AMERICA
BY CHRISTINA IM
My mother has a dream in August and won’t tell me
how it ends. On the fence the crow counts to ten.
In a month we will all be citizens and the man
on the radio knows it. Limns us into nightmare:
imaginary capital thrown to the page. Red as a shock
to the tongue. And all the lights nothing more
than ways to fill containers. What kind of language
lets that happen? I don’t know—
is what I want to say but can’t. I hear it all.
This can be wire and warp. This can be a story
that forgets to move like a story. This can be told
and retold—every time in the wrong country. I’ll wait.
Act of creation: I dissolve
out of the dark. Yellow,
by which I mean white
but cheaper. I stand only to warn
and be warned. Keep still. Today
I am the body politic. Today I am
My eyes are dry for three years. At breakfast
my mother tells me five times to be safe. She remembers
how gently the stray grenade slips out of a hand, into
a family tree. How gently the hand
slips out of the girl, into its own pale orbit. Nothing
is wasted. Nothing is better than this. I’m trying to be
specific. On television we are all of us thieves. Or better,
the reason the sky looks so much closer than it did
yesterday. The dawn breaks on my knee, acrid
and faithless: proof that I come from somewhere.
It’s always been too late. Wednesday. Smoke-
screen. The crow at the window watches us eat.
Act of creation: the radio
on my desk—the dial murmurs
away from my touch.
My ancestors flicker out
of its jaw, curving smooth as an order
to kill. The bulb above my head spitting
in my mother tongue.
Autumn now. Dislocated into any other hour,
I’d warpath my face bright with tar. The rain sours.
It’s breaking records this year. Like everything else
I’ve ever touched. Get your gas masks right here—
quick, while they’re still selling them to you. Quick,
while words are still words and they still fit between
your mother’s bones. Along the highway the billboards,
unblinking. I’m speeding. Thinking I could build a house
with all those weapons. But the man on the poster—
the intercom, the history book, fixed on the distance
from my hips to my chest, holds me down when I cry
fire! in the theater. Progress, he says. Look at you, all safe.
Act of creation: turn it off.
Turn it all off. Yellow,
by which I mean too hollowed-
out even for the birds, by which
I mean starving slowly
to life. The radio man,
he sees us. He is so afraid.
I will say this: it’s nice being talked about.
Too weak to stay. Too good to live. Incandescent
at the prophet’s feet. Crow’s wings aflame
behind the metal curtain between my legs.
This was going to be about my mother. This is
still about my mother. Don’t you know
these are dangerous times we die in?
Minor chord, first inversion—
foreign girl found splayed in the prophet’s
backseat. The woman who raised her, shuddering
back into color. No sound. I will say this: it’s nice
knowing what I know about tyrants.
Act of creation: a world,
unarmed. Three times,
check the locks.
Sometimes I picture the house, after. The land
laughing on its axis precisely because
it shouldn’t be. I can’t decide whether I’ve made it
this far. Can’t decide how to decide. Anyway,
no human could breathe this fog. Not without
someplace to return to. Mother, I miss you. Next time
I want to be smarter. As if that will get me out.
I want a storyteller here at all times. Look at me,
still so helpful. Next time the crows
could sing a song of sickness: these vowels
are murder on the heart, mother. They slacken
in the throat like dust.