Sally Wen Mao
The Spring of Terrible Fevers
"oh you who are young, consider how
quickly the body deranges itself..."
In February, a fortuneteller
ran her fingers over my palms
& said, dear, you're cursed. let me help you
fix yourself. When I recoiled,
the season began: a slow,
That spring I learned about Ginsberg's
Chinese lover--the one from Shanghai
who pan-fried their suppers on winter nights.
Later they'd lie on the cot like a pair of hatchets.
The ginger & chives he tossed into the wok,
he tasted on his lover's breath.
In March I caught a horrible disease,
my windpipe catching fire. For twelve nights
I retched into the sink, cast in a spell
of bloodless quivering, this heat-filled dreaming
about somebody's faraway music, prophetic
That spring I learned about Chairman Mao's
propensity for virgins. He called each girl mei mei,
& coated their bodies with plum juice.
Their cries kept his skin ruddy like Buddha's.
To each ear he crooned metaphors of fruit:
In April, my fingers cold as chess pieces,
I salvaged heat, miserly, hopeful.
Sick boys & girls marched beside me, asking:
When to touch?
Where to navigate? Why this roiling
inside the blood?
That spring I learned about flesh, its riverbeds
of silt. I ate spicy gooseberries to still
this oxytocin - the chemical of trust. Next to me,
an androgynous boy played the piano, smiling
with cold olives in his mouth. And I tried
hard to calcify.
In May, the windows opened, washing
our bodies of thirst. His teeth-scrape, his shhh
left me barren, spiritless. I kissed him goodbye
on the stone rotunda, follicles
stinging, skin molting like a lizard's,
& how I wanted to run.
The night my sex returned, I shut the door,
barricaded it with a rattan chair. The banging
curdled the egg pudding and for ten minutes
it was all tremor, all the time. There my mother
was, half-asleep in her gender, and there my sister
was, locked inside her purity panoply. And I, shut
inside, obsessed with the insides of me, obsessed
with the open-and-close of me, dead-sexed, hyper-
sexed--I couldn't stop mulling over how every seed
burst, pummeled into pulp, jejune nectarine jabbed
to the pit. Could anyone forget--the horrible panache
of fruit? I despised softness, how a bite can sluice
the flesh with teeth. I wanted to disperse like creosote
in water; I wanted to reproduce like spores, tease
like those stars seen so plainly out in the thawing sky
but nonexistent, having exploded long ago.
So entered sex, who loaded a carcass, asphyxiated
creature, into the open suitcase. We shut it tight,
zipped it, but the miasma stayed with us, angry visitor,
as breath on the cinders, as grease in my hair.
I'm a monster because I poison the children.
They dance around me and my fronds flutter
with holes. They invite: eat my fanged fruit.
Each scale will peel off easy, but if you eat it
unripe, it will steal your voice. Your gums
will blister little stars. You'll vomit, swell, tremble.
When ripe, it is sublime. Better than banana,
soft mango, sweeter than wild yellow rambutan
coated in syrup. It only takes one year. Bite.
-from Mad Honey Symposium, selected by Guest Editor Phillip B. Williams