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

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

taking heart

here we are again
the windows so sealed there could be a solar eclipse
and it would still feel like midnight, beside you
loneliness building company out of your fingers

the air, pregnant with thoughts we keep to ourselves
my body would not let itself fall asleep
pressed against yours, becoming more familiar
with each apple we bite into
suture it together and call it an orchard

but maybe i do not want a love that bites like a fist
through a glass window, sliced cheeks
that hoard a belly of swallowed secrets
and fades like a snowflake against body heat
leaves me to walk home in the morning
a hand-me-down in last night’s dress

tread as gently as this heavy heart will allow
let this weight press your chest cavity hollow
it is 2am and i cannot stop crying
may you always remember the surgeon massaging the heart
aortic blood embracing his latex gloves
may you mistake coming over for coming home
and coming home for starting over

morning glory

when the morning imposes again
i remember feeling glad for the space
on the other side of the bed, wondering how long it can last
like how the daughter waits and is
relieved when her father does not come home
how much easier it is to fall asleep this way

let the respite echo on the face of the businessman’s
rolex, shining 11:11
to the young boy holding his breath
over quivering birthday candles and the young lovers
who drove an hour from the city for a meteor shower

there is a girl on the streets so late we’ll call it dawn
a red balloon tied to left wrist
darling
may you always remember the arsonist who stayed
up all night watering the plants
your mother saying how her father and your grandfather were
two different people

i picture you again at midnight with an i love you
taping your lips shut
then the morning after
over and over
but this time the sun doesn’t rise with your apology
and this time i see myself walking away

i think, how things have changed
how people have changed
and i think i am still growing
god, i hope i am

the universe is an unkind place

still trying to forgive
the universe for what happened to your father
pleading, for something
other than whiteness and met with a tacet

they teach us in school all
the layers of the skin yet i keep remembering
how translucent it lingered against
the underside of your wrist, where i
brushed a finger to unearth your pulse only to feel it
quivering, the first time we stood beneath
a waterfall and you whispered, hey look
maybe the universe isn’t all bad

but then i call you
on the phone that night for nothing
other than to cry and you said
don’t be afraid, there is someone out there who loves you
more than you will ever know
say it all, here is someone who will actually listen

like look at the sky so heavy
i think it’s been wanting to rain for a while now
i am waiting for the time to scream
to see a colour other than red
how long for the past to tire of holding me back?
i love with a giraffe heart and i think it will kill me someday
so close to drowning that i’ve stopped caring
what the lifeline is made of
i will choose over and over to hold on to it even if
it is something time cannot heal and i have to spend forever
piecing myself back together

dusk, and i am too cold to practice understanding
attaching resent to your heart pumps
the blood so alkaline
delivering to every organ a peal of bleach

hush darl,
i think your father forgave the universe a long time ago

human error

we meet after everyone else has gone home
you, repeating the words of a thousand men before you
the silence, cleaved by predawn
thrusts through my un-shut blinds
i open my mouth to catch a breath
but there is only your tongue, whittled
down to a red flag

i cannot ignore the incandescence blooming from each heartbeat
which means something is rooting for us
you trace my silhouette and i hate that my spine tingles
blame it on the mercury retrograde if we must
or the saturn return, whichever is more chaos

look at us
naked bodies and glass shards tangled
in egyptian cotton sheets
your ego, engorged
and me, lying bare without feeling vulnerable
maybe this is foreign enough that our bodies won’t recognise it as wrong

i dress in a wine slip
and you slip out before the dawn
that this could be something we regret later
we all slip up, we all slip up

if the sun didn’t see it, it never happened

i owe it to myself to stop loving you

sometimes i wonder what would have made a difference, if anything
if salvage was something you had long since tucked away
a bone china plate snared in the jaws of a tempest
the sizzle of our silence splintering the glass-bottom bridge

tell it like it happened
how i held us like a crumbling basilica
but you kept your hands behind your back
my pleadings droning like background static you could not make sense of
i try myself into an infinite loop

some days i am still kneeling at the altar
some days it still hurts to be touched by fingertips

if my heart wasn’t bound by veins i wonder how high it would have flown for you
if my tongue wasn’t tethered by a frenum i wonder what i would have said to you
maybe if i had a second life i could have tried again
but just once, i want to be something that doesn’t wait
rain that falls before the clouds are full
stars that outshine the sun in broad daylight
let my last image of you be your silhouette morphing into an omega

see, people talk about regret all the time, about squandering
and taking things for granted
but what about the girl who loved, and knew it, and acted on it?
who cherished every second and never wanted to let go
she, who still ended up on the floor
what then?

to jump-start a soul

still thinking there is horizon for this all to end softly
i visit the beach at daybreak
weigh myself into the sand
that the high tide may not sweep smooth instantly

i want to be the first thing the sun sees today
as if in four billion years it has not seen anything more interesting
than a fizzled cut-and-paste job
almost laughable, how hard we try to matter

at night, taking the darker way home
my mother’s warnings strapped like a straitjacket
whispered, tucked behind each ear
but how I miss the way my heart races like it still cares
how similarly our bodies deliver in fear, and in love

the first time i forgive myself for being alone
it is so cathartic
the next time i am left behind
i mistake it for an exorcism

i repent myself into the empyrean

hey universe
give me a memory so warm my body will char if i remember it for too long
show me a journey that stretches so long it may as well be forever

the next time i say i love you
it will be the split second before a gamma-ray burst
i do not want to hear your reply

over the rainbow

tell me, do you ever think of her?

the first time, in red
rusted light grazing her shoulder blades to reign ruby
cheeks veneered sangria wine
rimmed with acetaldehyde
the apples already bitten into
the roses blooming, and you prick your finger
but how it doesn’t hurt, not at all

then the best time, in yellow
and it was dark but oh
how the golden hour folded into her locks
debussy could have written a symphony about this
leconte de lisle, an epic
her laughter, honeyed citrine
pirouetting like young sunflowers

or even the worst time, in blue
robin’s egg-shell eyes cracking, dry
but you could already see how
neptune would stamp down her cheeks
the forget-me-nots severed from your lapel
tossed into the marsh next to p. icarus’ powdered wing
low tide, sapphire smile washed empty

and then the last time, in grey
you wait for it all to fade to monochrome
beg for quits as the thunder climaxes
she lets you, and you leave
her behind, in a cloud that spits
droplets of lead, torrents of stone
you wonder how long she took to make it out from the smoke

maybe she never did
maybe she is still trying to find a colour that doesn’t bleed back to you
somewhere, on the other side of the rainbow

and i think somewhere, tonight
she is thinking of you too