Valerie Hsiung


from The Letter Seven

 
 
 

I’d like to take you to my old home, the home I’ve never been to myself, for it’s very far and hidden.

I turn to look at you, I don’t turn my entire body, only the face, while my body stays facing where I
was.

Why is the water warm? I squat, I press my ear to the rock, I let the wolves tickle me.

 
 

 
 

Listening to her body, she knew what was about to happen.

Listening to her body, she knew what was about to happen though she could not stop it.

Listening to her body, she knew exactly when she would die.

 
 

 
 

She’ll never forget the smell of dog’s cheek or of a dog’s paw-pad.

Once, while opening a trunk for extra blankets for guests, she thought she caught that very scent,
scent of dog’s cheek, scent of the paw pad.

Once, while falling asleep, too, she thought she found her at last.

 
 

 
 

For the afternoon we braid each other’s hair and lick charcoal stones until our tongues are scabby
eels.

Suddenly she remembers him, what he did to her, and she cannot look into her sister’s eyes anymore.

 
 

 
 

This is the world we live in. The moths colonize the bag of flour in a matter of weeks.

She looks at a man’s sweating face and thinks he may be a terrorist.

She writes a letter to her long lost family, explaining her absence but then going on a bit of a rant
about the future of this country.

She signs off,
I’m worried…
it may be the end of it all…
for all of us…

She continues to embroider, to keep the compass wrapped inside the pulpy flesh of her wrist, to
receive death threats if she continued to “ignite” the public, from her own government.

Her body turned up a few weeks later, scrubbed clean of evidence (by the world’s best).

 
 

 
 

She could see in the distance what appeared to be a woman gardening through a fence.

But they kept her hungry, thirsty, and confused, so she wasn’t sure if it all was a mirage in her head or
if—if there could be a good woman not too far from here just through the fence who wasn’t also in on
it.

 
 

 
 

It is a sin
to misguide
a fool
or even one fully capable
to the falls, or to
any other peril.

It is
a sin.
To ruin a family.

 
 

 
 

Well, first it began with an illness and then it would end as such—

uncontrollable projectiles, but
nobody listened.

Your tears sank into the page of the book of losers.

You thought how odd that the one letter should separate loser from lover—it’s just because you could
feel the passion being pushed out of your skin.

One must be so careful how one chooses to spend their time, and with whom one chooses to spend it.
One must ask, Do I love this person less or more than when our love was fresh and unexplored, and
why?

 
 

 
 

We picked food from the ground that we harvested and cared for all year.

It was an experiment to see if we could survive without having to travel and move every other day.

Nature was kind to us, in her bounty, resilience, regeneration (powers I liken to a God or some blood-
work), intelligence, acceptance of death and adversity, and the life force that makes a plant dance and
talk.

In the end, we found ourselves with extra time to cultivate not just food but other than food.

In fact, food would cease to be the focal point of our labor, although it would never cease to be the
focal point of our livelihood, because how ever could it, how could it ever?

 
 

 
 

Perhaps it was then she began to not fully recognize herself. But she was merely a child. It was society
which labeled her a beast, a monster, a specimen.

So, it would be through society that she would enact her perfect revenge.

Even now, she locks the doors at night because her wolf mother taught her better than that.

She realized, then, that to be naked was
to be most pure.

 
 

 
 

During times of war, we’d see the theater become even more packed than usual. That bed beneath the
theater was, of course, an odd prop bed before the war which was, of course, someone’s actual bed
during the previous war.

Once she reached the window, she would climb in, without expectation, receive her drink of water
and her charge. They would lift up her shirt, plug into her belly button—into the outlet that was her
belly button—until she had all that she needed before embarking again, to walk back on the string,
back to the other window again.

To live with the feeling that a shadow of a martyr walks beside your own shadow, masking you from having to
sacrifice too much.

To live with the feeling that one is not alone, that the shadow of a soul goes with you.

 
 

 
 

Will you do me this favor?

No, I don’t want your pity…

She slides down the muddy hill.

Sometimes a good night’s sleep is all that’s ever needed to get on from a toxin ingested.

And they’re selling that now.

Why, are some memories more vivid than other colors? Tell me then

I felt that… I had to make up for it… I had to fix it, I had to improve my self, cleanse myself, with
dirt…

Though refusing to ever give up this dirty mind…

almost
like a killer
except
not
a killer.

 
 

 
 

You’re saying all these names.

But I don’t recognize them.

And you can do whatever you want to do with me, you can keep doing what you’re doing, but my
answer will never change…

 
 

 
 

Occurred along the carousel…

This song

This song because it reminds me of standing somewhere in spring without loneliness

Why did you say that? Why did you say that to me? Why? Most

importantly. If now you

say you never meant it

And we could finally get lost here…

You see that’s the thing.

I don’t want to think about your tragic life anymore…

But, I guess, I never knew and we’ll never know anymore

how much and for how little, or who those women even were

 
 

 
 

We can’t help but wait. And then laugh, hysterically, when I say,

you’ll be sorry.

It’s not that you don’t take me seriously but you aren’t sure whether

I’ve ever truly forgiven you.

 
 
 
 

**

VALERIE HSIUNG is the author of three full-length poetry collections, the latest of which is e f g (Action Books). Her poems can be found or are forthcoming in The Nation, Gramma, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, Pinwheel, VOLT, Hayden’s Ferry Review, FANZINE, PEN Poetry Series, American Letters & Commentary, Foundry Journal, Prelude, No Dear Magazine, New Delta Review, Tammy, and Yes Poetry. She has performed her poetry theater at Treefort Music Festival, DC Arts Center, Common Area Maintenance, Leon Gallery, Poetic Research Bureau, Rhizome, and The Silent Barn. Born and raised by Chinese immigrants via Taiwan in southern Ohio, Hsiung is nowadays based out of New York. She serves as an editor for Poor Claudia. http://flowersintheirmouths.com

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