Simon Shieh is a poet and the Director of InkBeat Arts, an
organization that empowers young people through artistic
expression. He is also the Editor in Chief of the Spittoon
Literary Magazine and serves as the Writer in Residence at
the International School of Beijing. Simon's work appears or
is forthcoming in Grist, Kartika Review, CALAMITY, and the
Aztec Literary Review, among others.
after seven days you turn into myth
Sometimes it's helpful to think of you with other men.
And tragedy. Say another man asks to finish your spare ribs.
Say he strips them down to the bone, then he eats
the bone—snap shell and marrow.
I'm just sitting there, mouth open, bones
scattered around my plate, holding your hand
under the table, trying not to scream as your fingernails
dig crescent moons into my skin.
The tragedy is that I remember you perfectly,
that the shadow lining my jaw is the memory
of your hand at night, when I needed you,
when I was hungrier than a sunflower in full
bloom in winter, when the night light turned our lovemaking
into an oil painting that hung on our wall for years and never
It's the second time I've wanted you today.
I left the tea leaves to soak overnight;
they tell me your fortune, or mine, it's
not clear. When I think of you, strange
things happen. My ancestors send
a horse to my apartment and it takes me
to the tip of an island, leaves me there
with a forest of silent palm trees.
At the height of my longing, a coconut
will drop to the ground and split open.
It will sound just like your name.
For one day and one night, it will nourish me.
In Pompeii, nobody expected the fire to become
a sculptor. Nobody expected it to grow hands
that did not feel but touched.
True, each of us knew the color of the other's
blood, or enough to paint the trace of his body
after being dragged through a quiet field at night.
True, war. We touched, no questions
about what the night sky sees
when it closes its eyes.
We invented stillness
so that in school we could do something
with our hands.
When we made art, it was still
life—last week's clothes still damp
in the trunk of the Bronco.
One weekend we drove to an empty field
with a car full of paint. Three in the back,
two in the front.
Because beauty survives
it is guilty. I never said shotgun. They
The Game shook the car
from the trunk. Two subwoofers beating against each other,
a bad metaphor for excess.
Before we began, Sean thought
it would be funny to shoot me in the ass
I must have sounded
like a forest fire. My camouflage
a dead leaf elegy.
No one said violence
and I believed it. Everyone laughed,
nervous that it would be him next.
We took our positions among the trees,
looked for eyes and movement. If he
can see you, if you can see him.
Everything, an agreement. Every sound,
a mistake. Eventually, stars appeared in the sky
like eyes watching a dying flame.
Every cloud of smoke, a loss.
We ran through the woods well
into the night, shouting like small fires,
patching our wounds with sticky leaves.
And even the most violent man
as we painted each other's bodies
like blind men painting
the night sky.
I tell him yes
sir, when he asks
if I can feel the energy
in the pit of my stomach.
I am almost the man
they want me to be. Three nights
without sleep, I shed my old
skin, marvel at the promises
it will never get to keep.
We are given muscle and
bone, a numbness that claims
the hands and feet.
When they tell us
when they set us free
we wait—throats tense
Candles burn on the tops
of punching bags,
the hair on my knuckles
hisses at the flame
as I punch the air
in front of them, my sleeves
not yet on fire.
Like all the childhoods I could
have had, the candle sticks melt
as I thrash at the air around them.
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