Guanyin (I)

Kristin Chang

I unwound my tongue into a river &

on the far shore I feel the O of a gun pressed

to my mother’s breast like a baby’s mouth.

When the soldiers came she said all the trees

turned white, leaves ghosting to her lips. A white hand

folds away her tongue like the laundry &

I realize the hand is mine. I see a tree wearing

my face, it is a soldier who will marry me someday,

in his branches a girl is waiting to be sung down. Sundown

the rivers boil & my knees grow into their silence. My

brother drinks my milk with a mouth curdled

like a dying animal. We pray only to the god

that was never meant to save us. Sundown

& my mother complains of blindness, says she can’t

see anything but a man-sized tooth rattling down a road, the

sea sunk in one swallow, the river flooding back to the mouth.

One day she will say her children have joined the sky, she

will rake the clouds for a slim ghost. She will speak of the north,

the Heavenly Horses that sweat blood. The Heavenly Horses

quit the plains long ago, floated away like my face, like

the neighbor boy who tried to kiss a gun & was sealed into

the skyline. When the soldiers knock I open my mouth as

wide as I can, watch myself flush all over, redness

surfacing like another body in the river, faceless flowers,

my mother chews flowers to sweeten her milk,

wishes the shrapnel could sweeten her blood. At night

the bullets navigate us like saltwater fish.

Mother guts a fish in a room without windows,

with her thumb belly-deep she tells me about the

Horses, their lips fish-thick, their front legs trimming

the wind, their tongues jarred like fruit in the lap

of a man whose new wife swallows his crime.

The Heavenly Horses, she says, sweat blood

so that nobody can ever see they are bleeding.

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