Poetry / February 2010 (Issue 10)


by Selina Libi Bjorlie

Tonight I burn joss sticks,
sandalwood and lavender
to a porcelain Buddha,
eat sticky rice wrapped in tea leaves,
squid, a fish with jellied eyes.

I suck on dried plums
till the tip of my tongue
bleeds red
like the color on birthdays.
Wear it for good luck, Mother says.

She's a doctor but when I have a headache
she rubs tiger balm on my temples,
says it reminds her of home--
coconut palms, seaweed and ocean.
It just smells like Vick's vapor rub to me.

Before school, Mother combs my hair
taut into pigtails,
stretching my face like the freckle-faced boys
on the back of the bus,
Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees--
their taunts like a fist in my throat.

Mother says to shut my ears,
not listen to what they say.
She doesn't know how much
my pigtails hurt.

One evening a sparrow
smacked against my window.
I ran outside, found it standing still,
eyes black like shiny marbles.

I clutched the sparrow in my palms,
heart fluttering beneath
its white breast,
wings smooth as the inside
of an oyster shell.

Mother wouldn't let me
bring the bird in the house,
Does not belong here, she said. 
Let it go.

I set the sparrow in the grass,
watched it hobble,
wings spread like a paper fan.
I cried as it soared
higher than the trees,
circling beneath the clouds,

where the moon is a pearl
and the sky a silver blue ocean.

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