Ha Kiet Chau
color of tea in autumn
she broke two pencils writing me a five-page letter
i read three fourths and slept through the last paragraph
woke to find a window half-open and a pigeon on the sill
the morning is a hollow cave the bird is gone she’s gone
leaving behind an eyelash in bed, i am cloud-watching
wild geese flying wings aligned, feathers white as rice
the sky needs a tissue it is drizzling uncontrollably will
the birds return this fall? i remember what she said once:
to detach is to let go so shut the attic window, pull down
the roman shades, let me sit in black for thirty minutes
let the mood wash off in this mellow hour, let me forget
the color of dawn in her eyes the color of tea in autumn
in migration season i guess no one stays in one place long
not college girls or gray pigeons with lives just beginning
dakota is homeless, resting next to a stack
of comics, a jar of potpourri.
i take her down from the shelf.
she stares at me, her morose eyes blue
like the indian ocean.
i remember mama had that same look
when papa left two years ago.
she hasn’t smiled since.
dakota’s pigtails stick like beeswax.
i unbraid her hair, shampoo her curls in the sink.
she smells like oranges and soap,
i can’t scrub the sadness off her face.
she sits motionless in daylight as i sew
the rips and holes in her cinderella dress.
mama is calling my name.
i place dakota back on the shelf, abandon
her for the day.
in the greenhouse, i follow mama around
like a poodle as she waters plants,
shoos me away.
on a patio bench, i sit and count all the popsicle
sticks i’ve collected over the summer.
two hundred-ninety eight.
rolling up my sleeves, i recount a third,
a fourth time.
three hundred and one.
yawning, my mind wanders to the clouds,
so many odd shapes, another miscount.
three hundred and two.
mama hovers over me, arranging
gardenias in a clay pot.
what are you gonna do with all those sticks?
i think of dakota alone on a shelf, homeless.
i look up at mama, i’ll build a dollhouse.
catalina wind, sand on my toes,
hair in my face.
the air smells of sugarcane
and dried squid.
the ocean splashes green
through strands of brunette.
dawn breaks at 5:30, a hermit crab
wobbles out from under a mollusc shell,
lingers at my ankle.
5: 31, a boy ambles down the beach,
binoculars in hand, bubblegum in mouth.
the three of us are nameless strangers,
gazing at the ocean like it is a rare
work of art.
5: 48, the boy grabs a twig, draws
a vertical line across the sand,
divides us in half.
he places one foot over the line,
then steps back.
he does it again, one leg in,
one leg out.
our eyes lock and unlock,
a silver key washes ashore.
hair flies in my face again, strands
of brunette obscure my vision.
he pops his gum, can i cross the line?
eccentricity intrigues, i scoot over.
he squats down, lightly brushes
the hair out of my eyes, tells me
his name is indio.
6:01, the sky paints the clouds orange.
we share the tiniest tangerine.
the hermit crab ignores us,
scuttles off under the sun.
At Home with Confucius
Let me tell you about a man I memorized,
a fellow by the name of Confucius
(not the philosopher, but this lanky fellow)
who once sojourned to me in meditation.
My vague shadow darting, a cool shade for the brown
farmer nursing his rows and rows of butter corn.
Confucius somewhere over a rainbow solicited my name
in several sympathetic echoes closely heard against
the bump-bump hand beats, the banjo thumping
of my stirring heart. Finding me, his gaze fixed on me,
a certain chemistry, a chemical reaction as the Lord
placed flecks of sunbeams in my squinty eyes.
He chewed on wheat grass, lent an ear, walked,
listened to my comical theories on nature.
Discerning shyness crawling like red ladybugs
on our green veins, I told him my uneasiness
of rosebuds wilting, the woes of tulips drooping,
how I spied this mother earth as a refuge for grief.
I said, “I laugh when I’m happy, I cry when I’m hurt.”
I told him how stares can drown me in rivers.
He did not say one word, not one, but appreciated.
He laughed his crooked smile— sunny, raisin-sweet
against my sanity. The sunken gaze of my remote eyes
was familiar to him, as was the earnest sincerity
he saw I was keeping, corked like his bottled soul,
the tenderness I could never declare as mine.
He whispered, “You’re beautiful.” This awakened me.
I never told him that I felt very at home with him.
Ha Kiet Chau teaches art and literature in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her poems have been published in Ploughshares, Reunion, The Dallas Review, New Madrid, and Columbia College Literary Review, among other venues. She is a recipient of the 2014-2015 UCLA Extension Writers’ Program Scholarship. Her chapbook, Woman Come Undone, is available from Mouthfeel Press.
>> Back to Issue 18, 2015