Sally Wen Mao
Poeta. EE.UU. Sally Wen Mao es la autora de Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014). Su trabajo ha sido recogido en The Best American Poetry 2013 y está publicada en Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Guernica, the Missouri Review, and Washington Square, entre otras. Obtuvo una maestría de la Universidad de Cornell y ha recibido becas de Kundiman, Hedgebrook, y la Fundación Saltonstall. Actualmente vive en Brooklyn, Nueva York y enseña en el departamento de Estudios Americanos de Asia en el Hunter College.
ANNA MAY WONG
En el futuro, hay un oráculo
donde se puede buscar
a dónde perteneces. Se lo pregunto a esta máquina
y responde: ¿eliminas las escenas en las que te quedas muda?
En el futuro, soy joven
y pobre, así que me convierto en una chica webcam.
Frente a la cámara leo pasajes
de las novelas rusas.
Internautas curiosos se suscriben a mi página web
a continuación la cancelan, despotricando en los foros
sobre mi mojigatería, porque nadie quiere
ver a una chica postrarse ante
un grueso libro y jadear.
Después de que me convierto en viral, cierro mi página web.
Circulan imágenes por el ciberespacio—
Anna, vestida como un panda púrpura,
Anna, tomando un trago de una taza de café.
Colecciono todas las contraseñas de mis plataformas.
Las pirateo, crece el hábito
de Photoshoppiing manchas de hiena en
mi propia piel y descargo mi estropeado rostro en Instagram.
Mi cutis tiene el moteado
de huevos rancios. Mis bigotes crecen
como mechones de plumas. Sustituyo las lentejuelas
en mis vestidos por escalas.
Recientemente, sobre la alfombra roja, me pongo vestidos
hechos de algas, respiro
a través de falsas agallas y acarreo sacos de plástico
llenos de agua salada.
Pronto una cosecha de chicas jóvenes se unirá a mí,
renunciando a sus ropas para experimentar
la emoción de ser un animal.
Versión de Carlos Alcorta
The Toll of the Sea
The first Technicolor feature in Hollywood, a retelling of Madame Butterfly, starring Anna May Wong
green means go, so run — now —
green the color of the siren sea, whose favors are a mortgage upon the soul
red means stop, before the cliffs jag downward
red the color of the shore that welcomes
white the color of the man washed ashore, from his shirt to his pants to his brittle shoes
white the color of the screen before Technicolor
white the color of the master narrative
green the color of the ocean, so kind, not leaving a stain on the white shirt
green the color of the girl, so kind — but why?
She speaks: Alone in my garden I heard the cry of wind and wave
In the green girl’s garden, the stranger clamps her, asks:
How would you like to go to America? A lie, soaked in the
red of the chokecherries that turn brown in the heat
red the color of the roses that spy
red the color of their fake marriage
white the color of the white man’s frown
She asks: Is it great lark or great sparrow you call those good times in America?
green the color of his departure
white the color of the counterfeit letters she sends to herself
white the color of their son
white the color of erasure
red the color of the lost footage
red the sea that swallows our stories
red the color of the girl who believed the roses
red the color of the ocean that drowns the girl
red the color of the final restoration
In every story, there is a Technicolor screen: black / white / red / green
In every story, there is a chance to restore the color
If we recover the flotsam, can we rewrite the script?
Alone in a stranger’s garden, I run — I forge a desert with my own arms
blue the color of our recovered narrative
blue the color of the siren sea, which refuses to keep a white shirt spotless
blue the color of our reclaimed Pacific
blue the ocean that drowns the liars
blue the shore where the girl keeps living
There she rises, on the opposite shore
There she awakens — prismatic, childless, free —
Shorn of the story that keeps her kneeling
blue is the opposite of sacrifice
Source: Poetry (February 2015).
A Sally Wen Mao en "La chica de pelo blanco" - "The White-haired Girl"
The White-Haired Girl
I will return your spurn with a curtsy
whipped in boiling water.
Cut the red ribbon from my hair,
what's left of my youth. Lotus seeds slide
down your throat—does it taste chaste?
The fugue of winter casts shadows
on the furnace—how it glowers
like the limpets buried in my hair,
handfuls of which you pull
towards shore, toward stagnation.
My destination is not this village,
where boars shear off bad skin
in the river, dung and alderflies
thirsting for flesh. Am I maid
or mendicant? The unwrinkled bed
is not what sky aches for. I am no swooning
debt. Next I say escape and small gullies
bloom before me—dendriform paradise:
mountain, grotto, kindling. The lightning
in my temple wards off wolves. I bow
only to pick the ticks off my shoes,
brand them clean across your cheekbones.
I stirred five bullets
into your burned porridge,
stole the money you sewed
into the mattress and took a bus south
of my sorrow, approaching sand,
approaching steel. I couldn't stay
another weekend, peeling roaches
from their graves. Out on the highway
to Half Moon Bay, I saw a power
line detonate a flock of geese.
Another lonely city emerges
from their sooty feathers,
and across the magnetic fields,
taxonomy of aurochs run west
of their extinction. Should I be
embarrassed for trying to survive?
I turn inside out between
motel sheets, prisoner
of altitude. A child mistakes
a strand of hair for lightning
and the signals of far satellites
question your penance. I won't go
to bed hungry. I wait for your footsteps,
slicing an apple with a borrowed knife.
Sally Wen Mao on ""The White-haired Girl"
The inspiration for this poem, "The White-haired Girl", grew out of my fascination with tales about wayward women. The poem is named after a Chinese opera and film based on real-life stories from the 1920s and 1930s—it's about a girl, Xi'er,who was forced into marriage with her father's vindictive landlord and flees her captor by escaping into the mountain. There, she finds a cave and settles, getting food from a nearby temple, and at night the lightning strikes and her hair turns white. She becomes feral, returning to the wild, only trusting the sacred silence of the landscape. There is a magnitude to that silence.This speechlessness grows more intensely as she merges and adapts to her natural surroundings. The landscape, in turn, has marked her with white hair, a change in her appearance that reflects her transformation.
I've always been fascinated by the transgression inherent in this story. It centers the girl's plight, and it's not a tragic heroine that we see in so many of these narratives. Instead of suffering, she chooses to escape. There is a defiance and loneliness to that act, and that's perhaps the reason this tale fueled the revolutionary narrative that was brewing in China at the time. However, revolutionary China was pushing toward a new social order, and I interpret the tale differently, not as propaganda. Instead of attempting to fit into a social order that exploits and mistreats her, or joining a different order, Xi'er chooses to forgo social order altogether and forge her own feral order, in the mountains and the temple, surrounded by wilderness and lightning.
In my poem "The White-haired Girl", I wanted to capture her voice as she defies her oppressors and is transformed. She refuses to be disciplined and controlled: therefore, her body removes itself from its surroundings. In the poem, I decided to write two versions of her tale: one based on the original story, and one "redux", a modern-time version. In the "2011 redux", the white-haired girl is still on the run. She's still rejecting the narrative that chains her to sorrow. Instead of running away on foot, she's taking busses, hitchhiking, witnessing the sky above the highway. In a sense, to be feral is to not obey, to fail categorization, to fail to surrender, to reject discipline. I'm not quite sure what will happen to her, because I'm still writing her journey into existence. Xi'er's story can be reincarnated and rewritten for every generation.
This is where I hang out
between a muck pond and a well,
where years before, gravediggers shoveled
out the skin & bones of a forest witch.
She weighed maybe eighty-two,
& having wallowed inside the well for two months,
wrote a hive of riddles on her shrinking body.
Her skirt yawned with mayflies, snail shells,
pennies. In that darkness she dreamed
about toys, gongs, & concert halls
about September, its fantasia
of wind & half-digested crumbs, she dreamed
& thought: How gorgeous
is this taciturnity
when suddenly our silly little memories
fossilize. How we hobbled
in them, dumb & graceless.
It's fall and I'm laughing with a ghost,
Saddened by silence, sighs & spittle
on my lips. I offer her my basket
of Sapporos & sandwiches. With mud
on my fingertips, I tear grass, plowing
It's September and friends are naming
their babies after months — July, August,
October. In the lily-wet earth, millipedes cry.
Against the sun's pink eyelid,
an egret bends to drink the mud.
After watching Chungking Express,
I weep into a plate of tomato ketchup
& eggs, then open a can of pineapples
with a Dec 1st expiration date. Sleet pours
over the window as trains rattle
along the chain-linked fence. I throw a bottle
into the mist, while hapless cats
fuck under a chandelier of maple seeds.
Wandering out, I look up at the clouds.
I ask them where they're going, and they tell me:
Madrid. Rome. Moscow. Shanghai. Hong Kong.
Join us, they say, but I cannot. This blister
of rotting leaves in my palms hasn't healed yet.
The clouds tell me to get on a train.
I'm always waiting for impossible trains.
I walk past the Children's Blind Hospital,
the Natural History Museum. It's December 2nd,
& my love, my love has expired.
The Boy Who Grew Old
My heart's made of crayons. Here's how I know:
In Virginia my father owns a crayon factory
and at night it's haunted with ghosts. They stir
yellow sulfur with the oxides. Every
morning their warm breath
heats the barren hundred-year cold.
My heart contains a reptile, with strange and cold
blood. I wish I could have known
sooner. Last summer I took shorter breaths
as I biked from the toxic swimming hole to the factory.
Day to night I worked myself brittle, and every
time my mother touched me, I did not stir.
I took home strange girls who stirred
hot dreams in my adolescent brothers, and woke up cold,
braided in their pink limbs. Every
girl's name I'd forget by morning. I didn't know
how fast the rotary factories
of their hearts beat against my chest, or if their breath
smelled like rotten mangoes. But my breath
was always stale, leaden, my dead young flesh stirred
with fantasy & undoing. I rode to the factory
in the mornings, with the girl's cold
hands wrapped around my waist. I know
how much they wanted to remember every
passing memory, every kiss, every bone, every
rush of blood into the atrium, every lazy breath.
But summer turned into ashes, before we knew,
and I waited for the calamity, for ghosts to stir
me awake again. My grandfather's phantom pursues my cold
footsteps, his shrill echoes shaking the empty factory.
My heart's no good. My heart belongs to the factory.
In its blank gaze, I search every
particle for a sign of life. I only sneeze in the cold
dust, the caked colors, drawing a long breath.
The lapis lazuli crumbles as it stirs
with water. I imagine what I'd forgotten, or never knew:
I didn't know what stirred the stunned glance of every
passing stranger, what paused their breath for a second, still and cold.
I didn't know what face I dreamt of last night inside the factory.
Somehow you still gallop against me.
In the background I hear a Cantonese love song about a goat.
I'm in no mood for such songs be it for goat,
amoeba, or human; in Cantonese, sign language, or English.
Night after night, I press my nail to my lip
for signs of the kerosene you left on my teeth. I am a wild bird's
tropical insanity. The night is filled with hopeless accordions
wheezing in sync, reminding me that numbness, too, is a feeling.
Somehow I tell myself to evacuate. I'm on the boat now,
sailing alone. Now I am shoveling pieces of other people's shoes.
Now I am addicted to roasted seaweed laver.
Now I could never get to sleep, with my ashes in the spigot.
The following poems by Sally Wen Mao are from her debut poetry collection Mad Honey Symposium, published by Alice James Books this May.
Apiology, With Stigma
Stigma, n. (in flowers) the female part of the pistil
that receives pollen during pollination
For Melissa W.
There is no real love in the apiary.
Hive mentality: 1. Fatten until you reign
your country on a throne of propolis.
2. Copulate until you explode
with larval broods. Honey makes me sick,
and so does the Queen Bee. Even
in sleep, I see the arrows point at drones
stuck to the ceiling, sparkling spastically
like the sequins on a girl’s yellow prom
dress. Some girls pray to be Queen.
They think: wouldn’t it be terrific, to be
wanted like that. Wouldn’t it be terrific
to be stroked and adored, to lose your virginity
in the glorious aftermath of royal jelly.
Wouldn’t be terrific to roost, rest, be the envy
and the mother of all. But one girl turns
the other way. At lunch she eats green tea mochi
on the edge of the field, scouts unpopulated
places—a lemon tree, a barberry bush.
Dreading assemblies and cafeterias, she ducks
under the library’s front steps, smuggling
field guides or National Geographics
with covers of jewel beetles and capybaras,
counting the minutes until recess is over
and biology begins. The price of sincerity:
when the honeybee shucks the anthers
from the camellia, an anthem begins.
It’s a slow soprano. An anathema. It screams
from deep inside its ribs. It’s a blues,
an aria, an index of heartbreaks. It may break
a thousand mirrors before the pollen descends,
ashes over caldera. Split gorge. Fever. Finally,
the bee pollinates the stigma. The girl curse
sounds like that—a drone of flaws announcing
each maladaptive limb, freckle, admittance
of shame. How to battle this monster?
It is known that Japanese honeybees grow
immune to the vicious Asian giant hornet
by laying a trap: 1. Lure him into the threshold
of an open hive. 2. Besiege him—surround
the saboteur with a wall of impenetrable
bodies. 3. Vibrate until the temperature
reaches 115°F. 4. He will die from the heat
and carbon dioxide. His husk will break,
his heft will plummet. I don’t teach my girls
to brave the violence of sun, sons, or stings.
When resources run out, don’t sit there and behave.
Abandon hive. If the hornet breaks the heat net,
save yourself. Abandon yen. Abandon majesty.
Spit the light out because it sears you so.
Mad Honey Soliloquies
Case Study: Kayseri, Turkey, September 2008
1 [Patient: Husband]
My wife spread-eagles in a quiet room.
One teaspoon each morning of red
honey, incarnadine gamble.
A bid to bury our compulsions—
for our bed to open up and swallow us, hard
into its gullet. Each night one head
stampedes the other, twin eagles shot
in this province. The missives,
misgivings, spill our sheets afoul.
Is this pulse worth saving
in 2008? Friends cautioned
against the honey. Histories chimed in:
entire armies murdered. Remember Pompey?
Remember Xenophon? How the warnings purr
gently on that bed. Instead, it grows moist
with hives, spears of laurel. Yellow splendor
pumping water into the mouths that need it.
The promise of voltage, always enough.
2 [Patient: Wife]
We were certain it would lift
us from our sagging sheets.
After enough teaspoons, that first
week we finally reached
for each other’s bodies. Did I expect
electricity? A charge to elucidate
the fitful nerves on our fingers?
My seams, all splitting?
Something about the sealed
jar, the black market. He spoon-fed
me the sweetness. It felt ecstatic.
Like I was infant, sucking
up sticky milk. Sick, as if we were wrecking
some sanctified memory.
We guzzled tea afterwards
and its bitter burn scraped
our insides. Ancient pain—
the ruin of votive gods rusting.
Emergency: blades began spading
our chests. Our hearts split, shut
down. When the ambulance
came, my husband was already another
color. His tongue slipped out.
In its shade I saw a golden dart frog.
That morning, a middle-aged couple checked in for chest
pain, dazed as schoolchildren. What we found: bradycardia.
Their heart rates, nadirs at 35, 45 beats per minute.
Between tests, they mouthed the word honey, and the nurses
thought that it was romance—that this pitiable union
of arrhythmias could brace their connubial nest.
But then we found traces of mad honey they’d ingested
to revive desire, as if poison answered all the questions
about their bodies. In my life, many patients
have asked about the heart.How to hush its palpitations.
I have no easy answer for why the wishes that charge
angina pectoris will endanger it, put it to sleep.
When I was a child, helplessness ruled.
Home alone, braving anything, the stain
on the telescope, a bravura of halogen.
inventory of fear: God, juggernauts,
giant roaches, mummies,
stews boiling over, CO,
bandits snaking up brick—
Unarmed, I wore a nightgown made of paper.
Silt fell from walls. A maelstrom dragged my mama’s
dinghy away. Spumes stole the oars, toothed
bangles clamped my ankles. Of course I was curious
about the ingredients of insecticides, the fatal white
powder my father sprinkled against each wall
like sugar. How I tiptoed past it holding my breath
as the roaches died monotonous deaths. Strychnine
adorned their wings. On my mattress, an invisible
dance party. I was always invited, never acknowledged.
Bedbugs writhed across my wrists. An avocado pit
broke my milk teeth. Nerve after nerve, my face was lifted.
I’m the dunce in my dance class. Can’t do a split
if you hold a gun to my head. So I’m shedding that tutu.
Thanks to you, Mentor, I’ll do a backflip.
My place is here, in the dojo. Show me acumen.
Train me to crack a body with these Glow-chucks.
Give me plywood. Teach me how to break it down.
Let’s grow braver together, I said to no one.
So I grew up. Nails thickened until I couldn’t
tear without wincing.
inventory of fear: driving on freeways
at night. Infidels. Shucking
a mussel. Shadow of muscle.
Horoscopes. A man’s gaze.
The slime trail followed me onto the street.
In this lightless prefecture, only one dance
hall survived. All evening I stared hypnotized
by the acupuncture chart. Listened to 90’s
R&B. My heroines had died. Left Eye, Aaliyah
taught me not to beg for love. Demand! Pose
like a boy, wear a hood, they said. I imagined
them as scissor sisters, denuded of flesh,
two beautiful skeletons spinning on the floor.
I wanted to dance with them, feast on genes
and star fruit. If I could do girlhood again, I’d ask
to be scarier. Less whimpering—more pyromaniac
urges, more flirting with kerosene.
A four-day flash flood, and already there’s carrion
in this dojo. Mentor, why too exhausted
to pick up all the drowned blackbirds?
With each comes a trail of skinks.
Don’t let me learn your secrets for nothing.
Fight for them. Charge a price.
The first time something snapped inside me,
I found a crowbar in the woods. My emotions
stunk of excess, so pure they could only belong
in the gutter. Later, I happened upon a young
spruce—saw myself in its sprigs. Swung once
and missed. Swung twice and needles shook,
left a scar on the bark. How I shuddered
afterward, remembering my only childhood
friend whose name was Shiva, after the destroyer.
That day I adopted her name, picked ticks
out of my hair, punched stone until my knuckles
inventory of fear: bones,
of skin. Falling off trees.
In this rooster sunrise, let me believe all fantasies.
Outside our dojo, the sun lifts the landscape, a blindfold
of gauze. The yew trees have eyes.
Mentor, don’t let me give up, no matter how
frightened I sound. Teach me ambush, how to mercy
kill, how to cut with my hands clean.
If only my father could have seen me then—beating
the shit out of thugs like the son he never had.
It was so easy to deflect their bulk, to dart, shoot,
set traps for their behemoth shapes, boulders
that would crush me if not for my girl’s grace.
inventory of fear:
The speed of blood
when the skin is cut.
To think that the first time I opened a physiology
textbook, I was met with an image of a cow’s red,
pulpy heart. I didn’t sleep—my trauma lasted for days,
afraid that such an organ could also beat inside me.
Today I am struck by how delicate the mountains seem
when months ago, they looked so indestructible.
Mentor, don’t give up on me yet. My superhuman self
emerges from the geyser – ready to tackle, ready to defend.
One day, the force I was running from cornered
me, caught me in its arms. My ribs broke, my mouth
gorged in. Maybe these bones were cherry twigs
after all! There I was, knife-plunge, coughing red
on hands and knees, everything woozy, as if in
love, the taste of almonds flooding my mouth.
Skunks found my blood
in the snow. You followed one,
found me, took me to the dojo
where the light danced
all days and evenings,
dressing my wounds.
My scooter. My celerity. My roach home.
My beloved dojo. My centrifugal drop-kick.
If I were more than a string of spit across the eyes.
If I were more than mote, nail bed, bug.
If only my inventory of fear looked like this:
Atomic threat. Flying buttress
Pretty girl, unsaved.
On the street with whale-lights and trembling marimbas,
Watch me break it down.
Excerpted from Mad Honey Symposium with permission of Alice James Books. Copyright © 2014 by Sally Wen Mao.