“and even you forgot those brilliant flashes seen from afar” -Ruth Stone

Cathy Linh Che

The Body Remembers


I stood on one foot and reached
into the Fuji apple tree. I was tall
enough to pluck the lowest fruit
but shorter than the belly
of a man who would carry me off
afternoons into the dusty sunlight
to the great museums where
we’d watch the pendulum sway
to show the Earth’s slow rotation.
We watched the pegs fall, not
understanding. His hair is silver now,
and I haven’t seen him in years.
What I mean to say: My body
no longer remembers the terror.
The dreams have evacuated
the building of my body,
the theatre a dark, plush space
without film reels playing hurt days.
Instead, my body is a bicycle whirring
down the sidewalk, my cape flapping
behind me. I dodge a girl
on training wheels. I was that small once.
The man was my sized. I reached
into the apple tree and brought down
fist-sized fruit. I ate into a new knowledge,
that my body is a planet, which I alone
get to name, and today, I name it
my happiness.

 

 

Marriage


I don’t quite understand
the shape of my future.
The water a two-temperatured
current against my legs.
Of alluvial fields I dreamt.
The idea of marriage:
the great barrier reef with
coral bleached and dying.
Evidence of resilience,
they say, absent a catastrophic
event. Whatever it takes, I’ve
decided, I don’t want
my maternal line to die in me.
I wear my mother’s dress.
I watch my body shapeshift.
This face, which hasn’t aged
in years, is sunspotted.
I am no movie star. I shrink
from my mother’s beauty.
She was, above all else,
good. Her lupus her reward.
Or maybe I am her reward.
I know I’ll never be grateful
enough. Between this man
and this man, my eggs are
losing count. Inside your domicile,
how am I to feel alive?
Once again, we face extinction.
The libraries not on fire, but
under dust. I don’t believe
in loyalty above happiness.
I dive and dive under
the turbulence. One day, too,
my bones will empty. White blood
cells will mutiny. Do you run
headlong down the hill
into disaster? In the park,
a swarm of gnats insists
on clustering. Insects
claim the interior. The flies
touching my face, again,
again, again and again.

 


Book of Astonishment


I don’t think that love
is an argument against
the self.

I think love is
for the self, the twin flames
burning at last

into a single
flame, a candle lit for
the long night.

I snuffed the wool,
I snuffed the wick.
I waited dutifully

for my turn
in line. The basin drained
and I read the muck.

The cells spelling
BABY and BORN.
I don’t think love

is a decision, like finding
a patron, or saying goodbye
to a soulmate, at last.

The line between the self
and the beloved stretches
into the thinnest membrane.

The ribbon of the afternoon,
the rough footage
which I watched.

There he was, riding away
from a future he glimpsed,
then turning around,

on a bicycle,
returning at last
to collect his destiny.

 


good sex will not keep a man around


and yet the body continues
into the fields
through the grass and muck

through the cicadas’ chirring
they fuck after 17 years of waiting
this monthlong orgy of sex and death

I want to put you into my mouth
like a communion wafer

you go into the dark by feel
as trucks slice through the darkness
the clouds pulled over like gauze

I find myself in love again
with a double agent

perhaps I broke apart
and the crack blackened
into a scar

on a bell
I couldn’t ring
without a sideways chime

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Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James Books), winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize, the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. Read more