Stephanie Chang is a Chinese-Canadian poet from Vancouver, BC.
Her work appears in The Blue Marble Review, The Penn Review, and
Riggwelter Press, among others. She is a Best New Poets (2018)
nominee, National Gold Medalist in the Scholastic Art & Writing
Awards, and recognized by the Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize. She
interns at Half Mystic Press.
Reflections in a T&T Supermarket
T&T is Canada's most prominent Asian supermarket chain.
Founded in 1993 by a Taiwanese-Canadian, retailers operate
within urban locations across the country, catering
particularly to East-Asian immigrant populations.
I look over my shoulder to see my mother dappled in lily blues and hyacinth.
Ancestry tugs on our clothes, pulls on the laundry line
to assume catalyst status. I thread needle between mercurial sky
and press rust onto blood stains. The television screen utters
a lukewarm confession. They are so afraid to touch us. Outside,
the streets grow porous. Yellow-bellied children slow in the undergrowth
like moths—and there is a word for this. There is a word for homesick
when you're already halfway there. Bleary, soft-eyed
iteration of unfamiliar creation myth.
Come nightfall, I hold my mother's hand in tossing green onions
into a gloppy bread dough. She kneads language in the color
of evolution. I am silhouetted by so much sacrifice. The daylight
never enters this story. We are picking flowers forever, straining
milk to seep through marble walls. I do not know where all the peony heads
end up except for in her fraying hair and my lungs and she sounds
so ethereal, drinking makeshift closure from white shadows.
The underside of a lantern. I learn to gouge history out of fish eyes.
Two figures slacken into metamorphosis: glass folding and unfolding
to decompose an orchestra. I remember nothing except overcast
again and again. Sticker-faced girl holds family in an infant's cradle,
asks the questions. All the hands flicker grey. Picturesque finale
in the stomach of a stranger town. Names catch into dust.
How safe we are. The dusk swallows the only boy I've ever loved.
My mother plays an invisible ocarina to soothe her daughters.
Maybe to mask the blame. Maybe to claim it.
I brush swan song off my tongue; inquisitor's folly. Beside me,
the ghosts forage about kitchen cupboards. A bouquet of
forget-me-nots peeks out of a copper vase and my mother
cannot look at it without choking.
I do the cooking. I snap my fingers and make
the magician's girl jealous. Teething. Salivating
ink; drips in concave angles down my chin. I hold a quill
between black incisors. This is the only way I know how
to repeat centuries of lost ballad. In the mornings, I palm crevices
split inside bird bone. My mother places a tray of apples and
golden flaked tarts on the highest window and the question
will never change. She stares at her hands, and
I am not sure if I am the magpie or the prey it stalks.
Instead, I bruise paper into fists. Bludgeons built for
waging every metaphorical war. Her words are fruitless,
mine even more so. Inside my room,
I burn quietly.
He never leaves. He only knows how to say goodbye and
for once, the women in this house do not flinch.
The man at the door tilts his hat at my mother.
My sister spits tar across his face. He grins,
puts down the T&T grocery bags. Never stops smiling.
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