I D K I S S U E 5
Uncle's ribs poke through the armholes
of his tank top. A lighter balances
on the edge of the dashboard,
surfing the Shanghai stop-and-go.
Fishbones in the throat &
trees twisting in the stomach.
Handshakes, side hugs, roots
that choke. How
to wield this country's words
made of sticks: throw them
in boiling water and tangle
them in the sink. Don't
just smile and nod, know that teeth betray
foreignness. Let stray
brushstrokes become paintings,
or alight like Double Happiness:
Hand cupped around flame, soot slick
on saggy foreheads,
hands over hands teaching
how to write bamboo.
It's polite to refuse gifts but
don't actually refuse them: red
envelopes, apples sliced
into gold, hair braided with praise —
your Chinese is so good —
one bombed baijiu, to make you glow
like Nanjing. Your brow, highlighted
with the strike of a match. The ever-
growing scaffolding, ready for you to explode.
Run it down, airplane arms, licking
the dust from your lips.
Julie Chen is from San Jose, CA, and lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she works as a paralegal. Her work has been published in Up the Staircase Quarterly and Hyphen.