At dinner a woman tells a story about her first love in front of her husband who cannot help but interject

Simon Shieh

  Stray dogs, a pack of them
                   slept in his bed after they took him away

                                                 You’re telling the story wrong
telling it backwards

                   He painted with cooking oil and crushed lilacs his work
                                                                        flat, lifeless

            All you need to do is grow figs, blueberries You’re telling the story
                                                                             the story is wrong

                                                            Sometimes, coffins float to the surface
                                               empty, except for a cup of water

                  Does the sea cast a shadow? I asked you a question—

Rocks, like underwater coffins.
                                                                    In China they buried revolutionaries in the ocean
                                                with cups of ice water

      They say a man must return everything he takes—no the other way around

                   When it was all over he lit a blanket on fire
                                                                                      draped it over the opening
                                                                             of an empty tank

                                    The first time I saw you
                                                   you reminded me of the Chinese character for window

                                                                  Remember? It was the street next to the street with the fruit vendor

      He missed the revolution because he was sharpening kitchen knives
                                                        in the emperor’s kitchen

            I met him when he was an exile in Berlin
    When he thought of home        a boat unmoored behind his eyes
                                                             on the deck
                                                                       ospreys in mid-flight

                  How, in Kowloon, you read the ocean
      like a Russian novel

            He wrote me letters in English
                                          so the guards could not read them

                         In one letter       he mistranslated heaven
      as today

                                                                  Look at me your mouth your eyes
                                                coins in the dirt

      Once, I knew a man who gave his life
                                                for a country that despised him

Simon Shieh is the author of Master (Sarabande Books, 2023), selected by Terrance Hayes for the Kathryn A. Morton Prize, and a 2021 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow.
Originally published:
September 1, 2022


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