The bay is far from here now as I stand in the dark corners
of my kitchen wielding a knife in adoration of the season.
Sold as ever for the birdsong amid the pile of soggy wood
& now a dead uncle who has left the realm of California
I go back for the starlight lost in my father’s bones.
Closed in the middle country the tiny lord of a titmouse
sweeps by in the low light. I sag evenly into the blade
just as safely where my eyes bloat like two hidden lakes
dreaming through my terrible birth—love feigning loudest
as when I first picked up a tooth from my mother’s hands.
I say to the fleeting song lift this bone from slicing me open.
Then in exchange for tinder to burn my way through this
my American name & in one storming drop far from
moonlight my ears unhatching the sound of a dead name.
How tame for my lover to wash in the next room as I sort
my yearly ghosts in the shadows I make. To go as we do
in foul marriage & in the dream to avoid becoming carnage.
How it is always sinew beneath the hair & skin & skin & skin.
In spite of this my heart is fresh or am I hardly aware
my father who would have me defending this body
cannot purge me from this sore side of the earth?
As if it were surrender to disclose tonight’s crime
as I make in the continuous dark the shape of my neck
the song that cannot speak with me—my lore in flesh.
Dear father who mourns on mountains in the west I am here.
Something more dangerous than a river divides us now—
something like that of your whetstone chilling in the backyard.
My lungs blow up in repeat & I am thinking of the ten
thousand rubber trees you planted back in the far southeast.
I am tapping tonight & with no one to catch me. Like the boy
who waged war when war claimed the oxen & tigers & blood
bursting brothers I meet with you son of the Chao Fa.
Our hair wild & permitting. Father do you see me?
I have your whetstone. The oaks in my yard stand sentry.
Khaty Xiong is a Hmong poet from Fresno, California. She is the author of debut poetry collection Poor Anima (Apogee Press, 2015). Xiong's work has been featured in Poetry, Gulf Coast, the Adroit Journal, the Margins, and elsewhere. Her poetry has been supported by grants and fellowships awarded by Vermont Studio Center, Jack Jones Literary Arts, MacDowell Colony, and the Ohio Arts Council. Currently, she is working on her second poetry collection centering on the sudden loss of her mother.• Photo by the author