Poetry / May 2009 (Issue 7)

Three Poems

by Iris A. Law


The way we sat at dinner
over a dish of rank mussels
and talked about food,
one would have thought
we had always been hungry.

We recalled the conquest
of shellfish: bivalves, arthropods
deprived of calcite and scale,
of quivering jellyfish, sliced fresh
on a bed of pickles.

But when we came to the one
delicate variety of creature
trawled from the waters that lap
up against your hometown, its name
escaped you –

language, elusive, slipped
up between us like the sea,
all salt and somnolence,

the way I imagine Magellan
must have seen the tide rising
in the space before the spear hit home
and knew, but could not articulate

that the ocean is a seamless sphere,
binding one broken horizon to the next
under a sky that rarely ever
guides us back to where we began.

How to Wash

First, set the rice bowl in the sink.
Apply the sponge until
the sides are sleek with suds.

When the tap groans to life,
rinse, holding the bowl low
in the basin so that the water
does not spatter.

When you set it by to drip,
notice how the still life looks
incomplete, imagine
a second bowl, propped up,

leaning on yours to dry, imagine
a woman wringing the cannery smell
from your shirt, washing her hair
in the sink each night before bed.

Imagine, as you apply a clean rag
to the bowl's curved surface,
that you are wiping the tears
from a child's face .


An unwise encounter
with mosquitoes at the lake
and suddenly my hands bloat up,

fingers stiff with fluid, wrists
fat and useless.  I ask my roommates
to open jars, struggle with zippers,

do not trust myself to handle
a kettle or to wash the tea stains
from the inside of my mug.

At night I hold my arms above the covers
until they succumb to gravity and sleep,
the softness of flannel chafing against

taut skin.  I remember being four
and riding the Hong Kong subway
with my mother, the rhythmic doors

expelling and inhaling passengers
who stared: whispering schoolgirls,
nervous businessmen, a woman

who barked at my mother in idiomatic
Cantonese.  I looked contagious, every
inch of me covered in large red spots –

remnants of a nighttime attack that left
my brother and me caked in baking soda
and fever.  He healed quickly,

but my skin did not.  The scars remained
for weeks – little red stars, glowing, infected
pinpoints that followed me home to America.

Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.