Sunday, awake with this headache. I pull apart the evening with a fork. White
clot behind the eyes.
Someone once told me, before and after is just another false binary. The
warmed-over bones of January. I had no passport. Beneath the stove, two mice
made a paradise out of a button of peanut butter.
Suffering operates by its own logic. Its gropings and reversals. Ample, in ways
that are exquisite. And how it leaves—not unlike how it arrives, without clear
These days, I’ve had my fill of Chinatown and its wet markets. Gutted fish.
Overcooked chattering. The stench making me look hard at everything.
Summer mornings before the heat has moved in. Joy has been buried in me
overnight, but builds in the early hours. My attention elastic.
The babbling streets of Causeway Bay, out of which the sharp taste of the city
emerges. Nothing can stay dry here. The dark cherries of eyes come and go,
as they please.
Let there be no more braiding of words. I want a spare mouth.
My father taught me wherever you are, always be looking for a way out: this
opening or that one. Or a question. Sharp enough to slice a hole for you to slip
Long car trips where I sat in the back of our family’s used Nissan. The stale
odor of plush seats and sun-warmed cola. My parents’ and my words do not
touch. I grow adept at tunneling inward, a habit I have yet to let go of.
I am protective of what eyes cannot pry open. The unannounced. The infinite
places within language to hide.
A Zen priest once told me that without snagging on a storyline, the body can
only take loss for ninety seconds. The physical body has its limits, is what I
heard. The imagination can break through them.
Boiled peanuts. Leather of daybreak. Cotton thinning out into thread. Dried
vomit. Ice water from the spigot. The sacred and profane share a border. In the
desert, small droppings of unknown origin.
Even when I was young, I loved peering at faces in films. The pleasure of
watching and of not being watched.
Black koi fish open their mouths at the skin of the pond for oxygen. At the edge
of the water, I hold two lines from Ikkyū in my mouth. Make my way slowly.
Nights when I shared a bed in a small room. Another’s body to the left, hooked
by a heavy dream.
Funny, the way we come to understand a place by wanting to escape it.
I can shake out the imprint of my body on the sheets each morning. Harder to
shake out the mind.
When I was four, I ate spoonfuls of powdered milk straight from the canister.
The powder was sweet. There wasn’t enough money for fresh milk. Seven
hundred years ago, Chang Yang-hao wrote, All my life seems / like yesterday morning.
From Eye Level. Used with permission of Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie.