Poetry / November 2012 (Issue 19)


by Stephanie Guo

"Such an odd species we are that locks itself up, or locks itself in from within."
Laurie Sheck
(pools within pools. stifled,
incendiary ripples.)
my mistress's fingers shook
as she gripped the calligraphy brush,
but each stroke was long
and black and unfailingly smooth.
i had spent years,
no, centuries, observing
those fingers as they swirled
across the rice paper,
but could never seem to watch my fill. by day,
my mistress exchanged couplets with generals
and flower arrangements with princelings
over perpetually full cups of oolong tea. 
at sunset,  she would beckon me over,
and i would wrap her curling feet
in fresh, white strips of cloth.
she did not cry out, not even
hours later, when i undid
the bindings. they were stained in a liquid
more black than red,
but i had gotten used
to the feel of it
all over my hands
long ago. she was the one who had taught me
how to soak the bloody cloths in the river water
and gaze numbly
 as a part of oneself swept away.
when we were both ten
(and callow like the morning sun)
i, too, had dug up dearthroot
but dropped it
after she told me of the emptiness
it would bring. now i watched
as she gathered dearthroot
on staggering feet
and ground it all up. i did not cry
as she brought the cup to lips,
drank her fill, and fell.
i let the others drag me away -
and as the executioner’s sword
swung towards me,
i felt nothing. for
milady never needed any dearthroot
to die. she was already collapsing
from within: a ruptured vein
had long ago carved its way
through her vale of porcelain,
and that perfect grace
was not mine to betray.
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