The first Chinese woman in America
lived inside a diorama. A little room
for a little lady, Four Inch Feet
Miss Ching-Chang King.
To make the body a place, you must
first destroy the body. Stitch up the mouth
tight as a fist, let the blood slick down
your throat like eels. I once swallowed
my name, heard it next in a stranger’s
mouth. A stranger named you twice, first
in your mother’s body, his mouth on
her breast like the muzzle of a gun.
Then on the ship, your body and its ghosts
stacked like bruised-back playing cards,
a game for little boys, a riddle: if a house
collapses but nobody hears it. He was soft
and that made it hurt more. Half a dollar
to see your feet, but what they loved
most was to see you eat, your hunger
their favorite confession:
how we must eat the dead
to stay alive. You were sixteen
and womaned: relearning
distance as the length a bullet
can travel. Remember the lights so bright
they chipped your teeth down to pulsing roots,
the leer of every doorway, the walls crowding
like molars. Inside a stranger’s mouth
you are meat making a comeback,
the curtains open just
a Chink, losing face,
leaking a womb full of ash and plum
pits crushed to salt by a soldier’s
sole. How to verify a body: blood is
sincerest. How they love you:
publicly. China Doll with hands blushed in rust,
eyes pulled back like the slit of a wound.
You were always silent, your language
the sound of its own murder. I wonder
where your name went, if it was teethed
apart by the tide, if it was buried like a body
in a mass grave. If I speak it now, is it
fact or confession? I want to know:
could you have been so beautiful
without being owned? My Chinese
Lady, how I have tried to outlive you.
The man I love reminds me
that a heart is the same size as a fist,
that things have no name until
they are named. He pulls out of my mouth,
drags the language from my throat
like a body, sweet with spoil. Afong, they
named you beast, bred you to be here.
The silk curtains always open, lungs
of light bobbing overhead. And below, in
its box, my body at last, bled to be here.
Kristin Chang, born year of the Tiger, is a queer teen living in California. She is currently on staff at Winter Tangerine Review. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, the Asian American Writers Workshop, Rookie Magazine, and elsewhere.