hands

it begins with a beat
of wings, a creature who does not have hands
the flutter coughed across oceans
punched and caught into countries
until the whole world is gasping for air

so then they skewer words into the skin i wear
passed down from my ancestors
i have never been more aware
of the way my hands reflect the colour of the sun
& how much better they would look covered in white gloves
because even in broad daylight the pedestrian mall walks
like a backend alley
all clenched fists and middle fingers

instead of letting you squeeze my hands
i stay home & run them under hot water for 20 seconds
i have never been more afraid
of letting my fingers reach for things
of touching, & being touched
how we try so hard to find hands that won’t hurt each other
your alcoholed palms against my cheeks all ragged
like his last breaths in the ICU, but

somewhere in the future it is 2019 again
i laugh because your voice is too soft
to hear in the crowd
you grab my hand to lead me through
& i have never breathed so easy

finding the light switch

when they turn off the light you are still small
& your arms are too short to find the switch

you take walks but never cross because
on the other side there is a bus shelter
that someone’s smashed & the last time he saw
you were just an infant

even when your cheekbones are mirror enough to be his
in his eyes you will always be a child

when the stranger asks why you are sad
you pull from your spine all the rocks you have
saved to fill the chasm until the room is heavy
enough to drown out your mother’s screams
your face wet with your sister’s memories
holding their breaths to blow out the birthday candles
& with it, the church that has bruised your knees

so of course when they say you have his eyes
a part of you is terrified

when your arms finally grow enough to reach the wall
it is a miracle they stretch for in the doctor’s office
white-coat mouth opening to spill a switch
blade that slices the sun to set

at night you wake up
with a cry that’s siren enough to need saving
& for a moment the light is so blinding
you can’t help but laugh

red flag

tell me how this is fair
a forgotten crop during harvest season
the only one to still care after
everyone has gone home
call her the last one standing & it will seem like
it was meant to be like this not
out of abandonment because
i loved your sunsets
enough to forget
the night we folded into immediately after
a javelin thrown into dreams
running off fragmented sleep
for hours and hours
until i wake up with you
against the palm of my hand like an answer
scribbled before a test
where every bubble i fill tastes like caramel
i gorge on sugar until my throat is too sore
to swallow
& you give me a pop song to empty my mouth into
don’t you think we break because
we are addicted to watching our hands rebuild?
drown this in the colour
of a father giving his daughter away on her wedding day
so that i may not see the red flag in your hand
fade to white in mine

red

shanghai, two weeks before chinese new year, and the city is red

like the lanterns hanging from the ceiling
a paper cut
in to “fu”, as in prosperity, fortune, good luck
says your aunt, chasing a red envelope into your palms
the pair you used to hold your grandfather’s hand in the hospital
one which would never tend to another rose
blossom, for which your mother was named
binding a chinese flag around your tongue
chewed through as you learnt how to use your teeth
sunk, into candied haw
lips coated sticky
drink
iced red tea to your mouth
returning home after more than a decade
drink
red wine to your mouth
cheeks exposed vermillion
riding the last line 1 metro of the night with him
the red string on your wrist jerked taut
his eyes wrapping around your body a tailored qipao, advancing
and firecrackers shouting in the distance
like gunshots
like bodies detonating during the occupation, japanese
painting the town red, painting it blood-
hush
look at how safe we are now
silhouettes nestled in the glow of the oriental pearl
a rocket to be launched
a city, ready for takeoff

lights out

it’s been so long that every silhouette
has begun to look like you
the distance, waiting
to be reduced to nothing between us

let us walk in the darkness, pretend it hasn’t been so long
in this city that’s home to neither you nor me
and find a space
here for us, somewhere
tucked in the skyline
like that of a desktop wallpaper

we can be background lovers
like an orbit that pushes and pulls with time
but never breaks
let the other men look
you will always be the one i wait for

someday, when we are ready for each other
away from the cameras
in a light that presses as soft as your cheek
the phones, silent
and this time i really will lose an earring

but tonight it ends with a hush
a platform moments after the train has left the station
and me
wishing i could have jumped on

pearl of asia

the city wakes without pressing snooze
before heat closes in like a fist

a man brushing dust from his
shoes, that settles
no matter how little he walks
the boy, hands the size of a toy car remote
gripping the handlebars of a motorbike for one
two siblings stacked behind him

and i learn
an elderly beggar
eyes punched full of a shame that trickles
down her face, binds shut her lips
wordlessly pleading for survival
is humanity stripped down to its most raw

but still, how the sun remembers
to fondle angkor wat on its way to the sky
paints a strip of fire the width of one grace
along the horizon each morning

if the lotuses can make the choice
over and over
to build a home in this land
if i can cross the road with my eyes closed
reach the other side safely
and the child who has never known her parents
can smile like the rich men haven’t in years
i think
perhaps there is an oyster here after all

setting the prisoner free

when i finally forgive myself it is night time
and only the streetlights are awake
i run
and for the first time since the starting gun
i move forwards

at the intersection, traffic lights
searing red, but i only accelerate because
there are no cars, the road
swept clean of movement

and then it all falls into place
how the hush lets me believe there is still
something to salvage, i can leave
broken glass on the lip of the sidewalk, return
the next day to find a crystal ball
that fogs like your breath against my skin

and then i read a book i don’t already know
the ending to
believe there is still something left for me
in the unknown, so hold my hand as we lie
on the sand, fingertips millimetres from
where the waves creep to find us
then jump
into the harbour at night
australian summer, 33 degrees

because forgiveness is feeling safe even as
the bush fire turns the corner
onto our street, and finding peace in
the palms of a grenade, promising
to never let my grandmother’s pendant
hang so heavily between my breasts again

knowing that you
are just a dream i will wake up screaming from