Arlene Ang's poetry has been published in Mississippi Review
Online, The Pedestal Magazine, Cordite, Poetry Midwest and
Offcourse Literary Journal. Three of her poems were nominated
for the 2006 Pushcart Prize anthology.
Inside the Minute Hand of Dali's Watch
The hairpin on the floor has rusted in less
than a week. I'm watching the harlequin
across the street undress, wear the orange
lipstick someone in the bus picked from
my snakeskin shoulder bag. I used to tell
colleagues it was Chanel. That's how lies
make me regret everything afterwards:
his lips on my spaghetti strap, broken
glasses by the fire, fractured light in
my eyes. For a moment, I thought the hired
maid next door had forgiven me for wearing
her uniform. Some days I go from questions
about his health to discussing the numbers
I erroneously multiplied in the third grade.
It's false to be coherent when there's
a deadline tightening around my neck
and my father insists on knowing how
to use a comb every thirteen minutes.
Despite the tv snow in the living room,
I keep hearing a charter plane crash.
The crumbs leave
an outline on the tablecloth:
a Picasso nude with wine stains
for lips. Routines, when broken,
are abstract, vaguely recalled
if not for an upturned nose or
the beauty mark on a nurse's cheek.
It's easy to get lost
in geometric details: the line
between black and white tiles,
the curve of umbilical cord
around a newborn's neck,
the surface of passing gurneys.
Calculations are often wrong;
births occur when least expected.
An artist projects the finished work
on canvas before picking up his brush.
Animal instinct can drive a wasp
to lay eggs in the pages of a book.
Is there an element of surprise
that Pablo is Spanish for blue?
soaks his dentures nightly in a plastic
cup. He says it's his way of protecting
the secret to his success. The nurses
often lose count of his pulse, their eyes
drawn to his synthetic pink gums, algae
trapped between the teeth. Often he forgets
to change the water. His ex-wife sends
chocolates regularly; the crumpled foil
wrapper makes everyone suspect arsenic.
He eagerly calls an upset stomach love,
and the judge to lift the restraining
order. In the ward, he likes to talk
to imaginary animals, pills held between
an orderly's trimmed nails, the wall clock
in the activity room. The head directress
assures his family by phone that he is
never coming out, and the marionettes
buried under the porch are not included
in psychology books as symptoms of madness.
When no one is watching she opens his
mouth with forceps, listens. From deep
inside his throat she can hear voices.
and a dead canary: do you think it's still
luck? Two men with identical tattoos are
heaving the piano up the stairs. A pot of
unflowering euphorbia blocks their path.
You've never learnt how to misplace
your things correctly. These days even
a moustrap has its political aspect.
Flies enter through the open window,
congregate on the overripe peaches by
the sink. Yesterday a priest came with
your mother to bless the penthouse.
He said Beelzebub was a black sheep whose
deep Freudian fetish for nailcutters
misled harpists. He was wearing dark
clothes himself, had false teeth that he
pushed in and out with his tongue
as he spoke. You are always relieved
after everyone has gone, and stop
chain-smoking. It is never too late
to change ashtrays. In boarding school,
they teach you early that cigarette ash
and holy water should not mix on tiles.
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