For National Poetry Month today, here’s a beautifully grotesque poem by Tina Chang.
On an island, an open road
where an animal has been crushed
by something larger than itself.
It is mangled by four o’clock light, soul
sour-sweet, intestines flattened and raked
by the sun, eyes still watchful, savage.
This landscape of Taiwan looks like a body
black and blue. On its coastline mussels have cracked
their faces on rocks, clouds are collapsing
onto tiny houses. And just now a monsoon has begun.
It reminds me of a story my father told me:
He once made the earth not in seven days
but in one. His steely joints wielded lava and water
and mercy in great ionic perfection.
He began the world, hammering the length
of trees, trees like a war of families,
trees which fumbled for grand gesture.
The world began in an explosion of fever and rain.
He said, Tina, your body came out floating.
I was born in the middle of monsoon season,
palm trees tearing the tin roofs.
Now as I wander to the center of the island
no one will speak to me. My dialect left somewhere
in his pocket, in a nursery book,
a language of childsplay. Everything unfurls
in pictures: soil is washed from the soles of feet, a woman
runs toward her weeping son, chicken bones float
in a pot full of dirty water.
I return to the animal on the road.
When I stoop to look at it
it smells of trash, rotting vegetation,
the pitiful tongue. Its claws are curled tight
to its heart; eyes open eyes open.
When the world began
in the small factory of my father’s imagination
he never spoke of this gnarled concoction
of bone and blood that is nothing like wonder
but just the opposite, something
simply ravaged. He too would die soon after
the making of the world. I would go on
waking, sexing, mimicking enemies.
I would go on coaxed by gravity and hard science.
from Half-Lit Houses (Four Way Books, 2004)