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my mother awakens on an apartment floor in manhattan, shivering

By Lydia Wei

a Golden Shovel poem
from ‘After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly’ by Jane Wong​

haunted by the neon soothsayer in times square, the one howling we
will forgive you should you seek mercy from god
, when you wake

to dust on a cold apartment floor you think of all the ways in
which you have sinned. when you took a dirty razor to the
familiar beast of your tongue, watched muscle part down the middle
so that you might speak chinese with one half & cracked windows of
manhattan with the other. when you bent your back like a
stolen bicycle, let the east river tsunami wash over you because life
could not go on even if the faucet still leaked. when you were hungry.

& you turn against the floorboards, think of your father saying we

will always be proud of you. would they be proud now? to know you smear
peanut oil on washcloths? to know english nouns still taste like durian
in your gaping mouth? to know you pour salt & soy sauce along
the edges of your memories? but you dreamt of his words. our
village is the same. the swallows still call out your name, their mouths
arcing to your skies. we love you. 
but you dream of his words that sing,
that turn your onion crate existence to stars. how soft
the hum & static of the telephone, braiding silver in the slow death

of memory. you can’t fall back asleep. & you know tonight is not a

night as usual. tonight you choose whether to give yourself to the lullaby
of crashing forklifts, to the milky arms of billboard oracles, to this carcass
of foreign words. or else to stand in the takeout dawn, breath-
less for your shift. to give yourself to the tenement teeth, to the greasy eros
of napkin prayers, to the billiard eyes, to the socks full of
pennies. or else to stand. if you’ll choose to do the work or to be licked

by it. for now, you open the window & slip moonbeams through your fingers.

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