Poetry / September 2014 (Issue 25)

Two Poems

by Margaret Chula


When I was born, Mother etched my name on the sole
of my right foot with her sewing needle, dipped in ink.

In my sixth winter, she bound my feet. The bitter cold
numbed the pain of rotting skin and broken bones.

Shrunken to the size of my palm, my feet were not shaped
like the ideal lotus bud, but more like watermelon seeds.

The day Mother sold me to the butcher’s son, she planted
five willows by our gate to remind me to bend with the wind.

Now, at sixty, I am holding a mirror to the soles of my feet
furrowed like a laborer’s, dirt embedded in the cracks,

the characters for Pink Peony scarred, but still visible.
My dreams of reuniting with Mother are buried with her.

When spring comes, I will hide in the mountains
living on pine needles, berries, and rainwater.

Like Mao Nu, I will grow fur on my arms and legs.
In summer, I’ll retrace the characters for Pink Peony

on the sole of my foot with charcoal. When I die, I will
leave a pile of white bones that no one will gather.


A courtesan opens a red lacquerware chest
caresses the pleats on her dressing gown.

A slither of memory escapes from the jade
bracelet in her jewelry box.

Her breasts rise and fall, while her tabby cat
trifles with a dazed moth. Where is her suitor?

The door to her chamber slides open—
a cricket caught inside the night.

Morning song. Her lips are swollen
like fermented berries.

From her throat, the sigh of a cicada
as it releases its carapace.

Carp circle the fishpond
with mouths wide open.

Her breasts stung with kisses,
she turns back the bedclothes.

He came and went without a word.
Scent of wisteria on the wings of bees.

The nightingale silent
inside its curtained cage.

A frenzy of raindrops
against the window sash,

as languid fingers
thrum the dusty lute strings.

Her long, curved fingernail
scoops out the opium pipe.

Curled up in a dark corner
the cat sleeps all day.
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