3 Poems

Angie Sijun Lou

 

Shrine Mom


I’m high alone on Main Street and I’ve given myself a limit. If I don't get a text with an address before a cloud passes in front of the moon I’m going home. Walking in circles, Cec is texting me a play-by-play of the party she's at in New York. She says she's trying to touch the disco ball so it spins at a constant rate. She says they make disco balls so they look like the insides of humpback whales. When Sean texts me '60 frederick ave' I get in the car and when Sean asks what I did tonight I say I went to a party with a disco ball. It spun too fast because there were too many hands touching it and it made me sick so I came here. Now there are only four hands and two of them are mine. They lock fingers until they have the same germs but it still counts as a purification ritual.

In Sean's room there are three twin mattresses stacked on top of each other and a shrine about his dead mom. I tell him I'm going to hide a wasabi pea under his beds and in the morning he has to tell me exactly where it is. After he fucks me and goes to sleep I lay awake looking at the shrine. In photographs Sean's mom looks cross-eyed at the camera lens. When she got married she wore all white and when she cooked eggs on the stove she still wore all white. She was the kind of woman who went to the store with her hair in curlers and never put on a seatbelt. Now every time Sean thinks of her he puts a new birthmark on her arms. He turns to sleep on his side and on his back I see a fresh tattoo of her face cooking eggs on the stove. Her eyes are inked so dark I think that must have been the part that hurt the most. Your mom makes me want to join a religion, I say out loud but Sean is asleep. Everywhere he resurrects her and everywhere I touch her laminated face and I know one day we will have the same germs.

Through the thinness of the walls I listen to Sean's roommate gagging on his toothbrush and the cats outside playing in the ferns. All night long I lay completely still, crushed between Sean and his mom. When I fall asleep I dream of cutting open humpback whales and scooping out shards of glass. They squint under the light like patients anesthized on a table. They screech until I sew them up and push their bodies back into the sea. I remember in high school I used to get dressed in my uniform the night before so when I woke up I could just kiss my mom and leave. I'm not in high school anymore but that morning when the sun trickles on my face I kiss shrine mom and step outside where the sky is foggy and far away.

 

What's on TV


I throw up on the side of an interstate and my mom says cool now we're done driving for the day. I was trying to hold it in but I'm 8 years old and nausea rises out of me like a big soap bubble filled with pus. At a gas station in Cincinnati my dad walks up to the counter and trades two cigarettes for an orange pill. He breaks off a quarter and puts it in my mouth. I can hear Mom arguing with him in liquid whispers. She says the pills are bad for me but Dad likes how they make me fall asleep in backseats. I wash it down with some Gatorade and when we get home he says next time, close your eyes when you feel sick. Don't keep them open like you always do.

Open like I always do is the way I swallow rain. I run laps around our apartment and drink it down until my belly is lined with smog. Every drop smacks my face the way my mother's hands fall on my back. She thinks I need to get better at listening. On Saturdays I skip Chinese school and lock myself in the bathroom. I lay down in the tub and listen to my mom yell vocabulary words through the door. Yellow light, borrowed light, get in the car, open. She puts bobby pins in the doorknob until I hear the lock click once.

I hear the lock click once the way my grandma clicks her tongue. We bought her a television so she has someone to talk to while we are away. She likes it so much she squints at it all day long. Now I have to call her on my walkie talkie otherwise she forgets to come get me from the bus stop. The first time she spoke to a television was somewhere in the midwest. We drove in circles for an hour at sundown fighting over which motel was the least died in until we chose this one. Inside a sanitized room I turned on the television and the only free channel was about a man and woman oiled up in the woods. They held hands and then took their clothes off and sucked on each other's private parts until the ferns glistened with sweat. My grandma was across the room, clipping her toenails and fanning herself with a newspaper. She asked what this show was about and I said it's about two people who like to hurt each other very much. The man covered her in something sticky and viscous like egg whites and she drank it up the way I drink rain.

When my mom and dad came back to the motel we ate takeout sitting cross-legged on the bed. My grandma said she doesn't like her radio anymore and she wants a television instead. My mom taught me some new words—alley, motor oil, baby corn, sacrifice. She stopped in the middle and asked if I was bored and I said no. I'm just listening.

 

Jessica gives me a chill pill

I keep waking up in different
beds and in this same
body. I have to say this
right away so you know
it didn't start with limbs
slackened, hair
oily, a cruelty towards
the sun. It started
in the backseat of Jessica's
Pepto-dismal truck. She
tied my hair back with
rubber bands when
the freeway passed clean
through us. Jessica says
I can feel like a cherry
blossom tree wobbling
under lightning. Jessica
has a forehead scar from
the deep end of a pool. I
ask Jessica what drowning
feels like and she says
not everything feels like
something else. That night
we lose the 7/11 lottery
but I draw my lucky
number, no quarters
so we scratch our tickets
with hangnails. Jessica says
that's the sanctity of ritual—
a ceaselessness in how
I look at every drop
of rain before it touches
ground, the way Jessica
mouths my name in her
sleep eating each syllable like
a minor god. I'm coming out
as someone who loves
things unevenly, my theologies
strewn out in the dark,
this iPhone an almost oracle.
Jessica forces me to watch
every sunset even when I
am full. She puts her fingers
in my mouth and says open
your eyes. Open them.
You see the small town girls
on big billboards? One day
that's us.

 

 

Angie Sijun Lou is from Seattle. Her work has been nominated for Best of Net, Bettering American Poetry, and a Pushcart. She is a PhD student in Literature and Creative Writing at UC Santa Cruz.