“The Belladonna of Sadness,” A Poem by Sally Wen Mao

From the Collection The Kingdom of Surfaces

August 8, 2023  By Sally Wen Mao

Spring in Hell and everything’s blooming.

I dreamt the worst was over but it wasn’t.

Suppose my punishment was fields of lilies sharper than razors, cutting up fields of lies.

Suppose my punishment was purity, mined and blanched.

They shunned me only because I knew I was stunning.

Then the white plague came, and their pleas were like a river.

Summer was orgiastic healing, snails snaking around wrists.

In heat, garbage festooned the sidewalks.

Old men leered at bodies they couldn’t touch

until they did. I shouldn’t have laughed but I laughed

at their flesh dozing into their spines, their bones crunching like snow.

Once I was swollen and snowblind with grief, left for dead

at the castle door. Then I robbed the castle and kissed my captor,

my sadness, learned she was not a villain. To wake up in this verdant field,

to watch the lilies flay the lambs. To enter paradise,

a woman drinks a vial of amnesia. Found in only the palest

flowers, the ones that smell like rotten meat. To summon the stinky

flower and access its truest aroma, you have to let its stigma show.

You have to let the pollen sting your eyes until you close them.


Reprinted from The Kingdom of Surfaces by Sally Wen Mao with the permission of Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved.

Sally Wen Mao
Sally Wen Mao
Sally Wen Mao is the author of Oculus, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry. Her first book, Mad Honey Symposium, was the winner of the 2012 Kinereth Gensler Award. She was born in Wuhan, China and raised in the Bay Area, California.

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