A Nacreous Woman

Sally Wen Mao

To see if the bead is real, you have to bite it. The grit underneath
your teeth tells you it’s a pearl. Nacre, which is inviolable, lines
the whole shell of the oyster with its sheen. Canyons and rivers,
all mother-of-pearl. Cannot burn, cannot break. It is the only
precious jewel produced by an organism—a delicate container:
full of flesh, the oyster resembles a wound.

What does it mean? Or rather: what do I
want it to mean? That I’ve so fully subsumed
my wound, even its most excessive parts?
The raw parts, the foul parts, still attracting
flies, men, monsters? That a cloud of white
flowers sprouts from where my pain begins,
that a pearl will form, making it pretty?

Sally Wen Mao is the author of two books, Oculus, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Mad Honey Symposium. She is the recipient of an NEA fellowship and Pushcart Prize.
Originally published:
June 28, 2021

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