CHINA: AD 960, first day of the Song Dynasty
Sonning is thirsty work. A father threads himself through his wife’s eye, stitches her flat against the dark. The groanwork of gutting. Six daughters stacked in the next room, the seventh now: hammered out of meat. A mother’s minor blood. A father’s earth-salty hands. The god clapping their bodies together, calling it applause. A pause. Then his finish, her hiltless body. Later, a head bobbing in her bath. Birth so painless she thinks she’s only wet herself. But she’s birthed a head without a body, a girl’s. The mother plants the head in a rice paddy, prays it will grow back a boy.
Like Mazu, you were born the seventh daughter of a farmer. In your father’s Nantong salt marsh, you pickled your feet in brine. You remember your first meal: a stork caught in a basket trap, its silt-stuck wings. The glass-bright sound of its legs snapping. How you thought it was more beautiful dying than flying. Later, you pulled a rope of blood out of its dead throat. Later, your sisters brought it home for dinner and your father shucked off its white feathers. The meat tasted wet. Afterwards, you saved every birdbone to reboil for tomorrow’s broth. Years later, in Burbank, your father is a dishwasher. He saves every bone off his customers’ plates, boxes them in leftover take-out containers. At home, he boils them in saltwater. The taste strangles your mouth – gamey as stork. Every meal a dialect of the same death.
I can’t help it. I swear I can’t. When I was born, the room started raining & it never stopped. Everywhere I go, it rains. Water follows me into the house like a thirsty stray. It follows me outside, the clouds leashed to my wrist. My rain always tastes like earth, like something soiled & trunked into a tree. Once, I sawed off the branch of my a-ma’s kumquat tree & it spouted clear water like a faucet. When I drank from it, my rain turned rancid as meat juice & the tree grew gangrene. That was how I knew my a-ma would die soon. Two months later, her lungs crumpled like soda cans. My mother says I’m blessed, calls me Mazu the Rainmaker. My father says I’ve ruined the floors. Says water damage is the most permanent silence. He follows me with a mop & bucket, beats me when I spill. In the rain, he rinses my blood clear.
Kristin Chang lives in NY. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Teen Vogue, Tinderbox, Muzzle, Frontier Poetry, and elsewhere. She is a Best of the Net and Best New Poets nominee and is located at kristinchang.com and on Twitter @KXinming. Her debut chapbook “Past lives, future bodies” is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in fall 2018.