at Length

Familiar Stranger

—Jane Wong

To break a bottle,
you must fill it with chemicals
and calculate the pressure,
carefully. Had I spent all
day driving? It’s hard to say.
A jacket falls out of a car
and it’s my jacket,
half an arm dragging
on the road. Helpless chemical
embarrassment, tucked.
I kept the dirty hem of it,
my controlled leaving, leveled
out as a wall sound enough
to punch.

The radio detuned and
detonated, waveless.
A single note played,
splitting a horn
in half. I remembered:
I loved one as I
once had. The road sprawled
in front of me, my port
of entry. I shielded myself
from the steering sun,
my hands over my eyes
as if looking at a noseless
marble statue, pure
indecency. I drove and drove,
Goddess of One Arm.

On a warm day,
a bottle expands and loses
its shape. Until certainty breaks
in half, I refuse
to move. The tulips here
are not for beauty
and must be killed.
We can’t seem to forget
the reason for it. Outside, the scaffolding
of a building leaves a marble
victory. I look into
my neighbor’s window and see
myself, drawing a bath.
What could I have wanted, ever?

Pine needles dry
in the sun. I cut a bone
lengthwise to show you
the marrow or there is everything
and nothing left. The fishmonger
wraps parchment around my fish
and this is my present.
A daughter throws an urn
into the sea off Puget Sound.
The silver death mask
is the hardest to accept.
Salt and brain, this fish.
The small heat of my arm nestles
in among the pines.

Here, the chickens
are all garment, all feathers.
I grab one by the ankles
and take to the knives.
I watered the plants
and they bloomed to plastic.
To take care of things
we can’t eat.
In the evening, a crab
disappears into the woods.
The mall opens its doors,
all anticipation.

It’s 5AM,
my familiar stranger,
in the blinding wash
of a cauliflower sky.
Had I slept at the foot?
Raccoons burrow through garbage
muck, piled at all
sides. I’ve tumbled into
nausea before and it was easy
to feel. This bad day
in my brain washing out
as dirt washes out
from these mushrooms
I’ve de-stemmed.

The mall leaves its lights on.
Across town, my grandmother
carries a head of lettuce
in a plastic bag.
Sliced in half,
I hold this rolling sound,
this heart shaking off
its hinges. The woods run
along the crooked Taconic,
rattling in truck hollows.
This highway of us all.
Both of these hands, holding,
are mine.

Editor’s Note: Parts of this poem were published (in various forms) in Hayden’s Ferry Review and The Wolf. We thank them for allowing us to republish those portions here.

Jane Wong is the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Kundiman, Squaw Valley, and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her poems can be found in places such as CutBank, Eleven Eleven, Mid-American Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Salt Hill, The Volta, The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral, and Best New Poets 2012. Her most recent chapbook is Kudzu Does Not Stop. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and teaches literature at the University of Washington.