Aubade after Nanking
by Sophia Liu
Wai gong was born in the year of the fire ox—the year they
drunk danced with violence, massaged saltpeter into an infant’s
lips. In a red-glazed night, they mistook our bodies as effigies,
our fingers as rose haw, our navels as the bullseye of a darts
game. Winter had teethed out of a third trimester fall and every
-one was drenched in the secrets from their mothers’ past
lives. Every mouth wanted something to untarnish them and some
-one other than their own pulse to touch, but we let the wind
bathe us and tried not to wonder if there was a girl’s hymen in
the lake. We teared to blur our vision and realized that
their half-lit faces could disguise so well as our fathers’. So we taught
ourselves to squint once in a while to differentiate them, though it
didn’t matter. While not ours, they were still fathers, still disguised
as noblemen. Then they slipped our skulls underneath glass carpets,
pretending that the dead disappear. Still winter, the sidewalks
were filthy with shrapnel and there was no song bright enough
for even an angel to sing.
I am trying to understand the mass of an acre
nauseated with madness: how a little boy cries out Ma with
a voice so sacred but grows into a man who laughs after deflating
the stomach of a half-mother. I will tell my daughter to always look
from a distance before crouching closer—to trust the world
through an aperture. And when she sees her zeng zu mu’s head
arranged in a grid like checkers, it might as well be an opera mask.
Because they say what's real is what’s golden, but how could they
even begin to surgeon out the napalm from wai gong’s stories? I tell her
that everything real can cleave in half without cracking, can be
caressed with cut fingers. I repeat that this earth will not forget.
How could it? I smell sinew in the night market and imagine
who screamed here. One aglow morning, I comb cartilage
out of my hair and find the mandible of my mothers. We remember
through the rubine sunset and every child crying with nowhere to go.
Sophia Liu lives in Long Island, New York. Her poems and artwork appear or are forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Rattle, Storm Cellar, Parentheses Journal, A Velvet Giant, Underblong, and elsewhere.