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Sally Wen Mao

The Spring of Terrible Fevers

                               "oh you who are young, consider how 
                                                quickly the body deranges itself..."
                                                                -D.A. Powell




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, 


beating bicycle.




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
between           heart/liver/tourniquet.




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.

Monstera Deliciosa

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

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