Lily Zhou is a high school junior from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her writing
has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Poetry
Society of the UK, Gannon University, and Columbia College Chicago, and has
been nominated for Best of the Net. Her work appears in The Blueshift Journal
and on Verse Daily. She reads for Polyphony HS.
my mother says / when my eyes close / it reminds her of home / a vase & a bottle / of tsingtao / this is what all good daughters / transform into / vases like stomachs / too hungry to hold anything / that does not cleave / like jade / this is what all good daughters / look like / red heated mouth / row of blackened teeth cut / on peach pits / my mother says the beer / is green not because / it is money / but because it was stolen from the nests / of seabirds / green / is the color of hunger / all good daughters / know this / my mother says / when she was thirteen / she watched a commercial / where a chinese girl / opened a bottle of tsingtao /
& found a gold coin inside / this is how we end / my mother says / my father with a thumbprint of gold / on his front teeth / this is how we / end / our hands soaked / in milk / my mother says milk / is the only thing in this world / that knows how to soften / my mother says / my father spit a peach pit into a bottle / of tsingtao / nine months later / i was born / we are born / with a skin over our mouths / that melts into spit / each time we drink tea / teeth / my mother says / are the safest place in the body / to hide / & so we hide / with mouthfuls of ginger root / this is what all good daughters know / that home / is not a place / but a color / the way our lips green / each time we press them / to gold coins / to pretend / we are the seabird in the nest / of glass / & not the vases we are / we are not / good daughters / my mother says / we are / not
Origin Myth: Chinatown
This was how the goddess Nüwa gave birth to man:
lump of clay cleaved on a slab of wood, kneaded
into the belly of a fish, then spat out by the Pacific.
The first man was voiceless, crawled out
of a translucent sac with both hands wrapped
around his neck. His body is now on display
in the only art history museum in Chinatown.
The tour guide charges 50 cents for a look,
says scientists found trace amounts of sea glass
between his incisors. He says this is the best way
to memorialize: the body like an old film shifting
into technicolor. A local father presses the jaw
to the hand of his blind son, says this was the shell
of the tortoise Nüwa slaughtered to save us all.
Her progeny know to martyr skin, cut their thumbs
on peach pits and blades of grass. This is how
they live best: sea glass climbing the column
of their throats, stomachs overflowing with wine.
This was how the first man survived: sold his sac
for a bottle of wine, captured all the shellfish
desperate enough to mistake him for one of their own.
He teethed on a can of salt, sucked all the blood
from his cheek, learned to butcher with his fingers
silvered into blades. When the universe fractured,
Nüwa patched the sky with five pebbles straining
in her mouth. When the first man killed his first fish,
Nüwa fanned a forest fire, flooded the city
with both hands nested underwater.
There is a memorial here for the day the goddess Nüwa
fed herself to carp. The inscription reads: this is where
her limbs thawed to wine. My mother says wine
is a creation of the Chinese, along with gunmetal
& rabbit skin & the filter of red over the mouths
of newborns. The most treasured animal in Chinese culture
is the tortoise, the best martyrs are the ones that slide belly up
into a river that stinks of meat. My mother stomachs each doe
that enters her line of vision, kisses each of her children
on the mouth. She says if I had a candle for every child
Nüwa slaughtered for skin. She doesn't finish the thought.
This was the best gift Nüwa gave us: our offspring sheathed
behind the teeth like ginseng. She said we are not meant
to martyr, tore the shell off every human that tried to trade
a spine for a string of meat cushioning the heart. Nüwa lived in Beijing
until she chipped a canine on the public bus, fell back
with a stomach bursting with floodwater. This is the birthplace
of Nüwa, the inscription reads. This was where she taught pottery.
This was where she flung her spit at the smog until it receded
into a sheen of rainwater & smoke. This was where she tossed
her canine into a puddle of animal fat, lipped the mud
off her five-colored stones. All humans were made from this.
Mud. My mother learned this in primary school: what grows
from earth will eventually return to the earth, will slip
into every infant mouth like wine, an heirloom for the ages.
Creation Myth with Teeth
In Nüwa's honor, the clay people erect a mausoleum:
here is where her bones softened to milk. My mother
tells me the best heirlooms are the ones we swallow
& stretch into fruit. To prove it, she unhinges her jaw
& lets her body frost into something cold & sweet.
At the edge of the world, Nüwa spits the soft
of her body into the yawning mouth of a glacier
& my mother presses her lips to the ice as if
in prayer. China melts for three days & three nights.
Nüwa says, I cannot help you now. Nüwa says,
this world begins & ends with teeth. In the beginning,
there was nothing but an incubated egg & a stack
of seared carp. In the beginning, five pebbles
in Nüwa's stomach punctured the meat of her throat.
Nüwa said, I am nothing but a pile of bones & a tub
of milk. Nüwa said, only the fish will worship me now,
then ripped the shell from her tortoise. In the mausoleum,
the historians squeeze the milk from a dead girl's windpipe
& feed it to the carp, call this heirloom. My mother tells me
the ocean has bite & to prove it, she drenches a mound
of salt until it hardens to bone. This is how we begin & end:
every glacier in the world folding over into teeth.
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