Chinese New Year

The dragon is in the street dancing beneath windows

pasted with colored squares, past the man

who leans into the phone booth’s red pagoda, past

crates of doves and roosters veiled

 

until dawn. Fireworks complicate the streets

with sulphur as people exchange gold

and silver foil, money to appease ghosts

who linger, needy even in death. I am

 

almost invisible. Hands could pass through me

effortlessly. This is how it is

to be so alien that my name falls from me, grows

untranslatable as the shop signs,

 

the odors of ginseng and black fungus that idle

in the stairwell, the corridor where

the doors are blue months ajar. Hands

gesture in the smoke, the partial moon

 

of a face. For hours the soft numeric

click of mah-jongg tiles drifts

down the hallway where languid Mai trails

her musk of sex and narcotics.

 

There is no grief in this, only the old year

consuming itself, the door knob blazing

in my hand beneath the lightbulb’s electric jewel.

Between voices and fireworks

 

wind works bricks to dust—hush, hush

no language I want to learn. I can touch

the sill worn by hands I’ll never know

in this room with its low table

 

where I brew chrysanthemum tea. The sign

for Jade Palace sheds green corollas

on the floor. It’s dangerous to stand here

in the chastening glow, darkening

 

my eyes in the mirror with the gulf of the rest

of my life widening away from me, waiting

for the man I married to pass beneath

the sign of the building, to climb

 

the five flights and say his Chinese name for me.

He’ll rise up out of the puzzling streets

where men pass bottles of rice liquor, where

the new year is liquor, the black bottle

 

the whole district is waiting for, like

some benevolent arrest—the moment

when men and women turn to each other and dissolve

each bad bet, every sly mischance,

 

the dalliance of hands. They turn in lamplight

the way I turn now. Wai Min is in the doorway.

He brings fish. He brings lotus root.

He brings me ghost money.

 

~ Lynda Hull, “Chinese New Year” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of Lynda Hull.

Blog - 02-08-16

 

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