Lantern Festival

Victoria Chang

—In December 1937, the Japanese army invaded the Chinese
city Nanking. Within weeks, more than three hundred thousand Chinese
civilians and soldiers were raped, tortured, and murdered.

Some open like accordions, honoring the arrival of a newborn,
others hang still like moons,

red ones line up in a row on a metal thread over scents
of sticky rice balls smoking in soup,

round ones glow in the wind, sockets firing up
one after another.

No! I am wrong, the round ones lash in the wind:

they are human heads, gutted and plucked from bodies that were
snipping stalks of choy sum, or

excavating daikon, or stabbing fish in the river, or trimming
pork loins for evening porridge.

And they hang in a row for decoration, foreheads bumping
into each other,

glowing like a galaxy of holiday lights, honoring
the arrival of the new,

that always, always turns into the next target
the minute it is named.

 

Cardinal

The cardinal’s crest, hues of spark and fire,
its body jerking

back and forth, wings ripping rapidly at air,
a machine of flesh and bone

fluttering against my car’s side mirror, resting
briefly,

then attacking its own image again. I had meant
to be over there—

a worker laboring in a fish commune in Guizhou,
with skin

like a silver carp and hands cut like gills, pond silt
through my vessels,

feeding parts of haddock to hake, sea bream to
flounder, gathering duck feces

for feed, the fish humming in my walls at night.
I had meant to have my mother’s fingers

around my throat for being a girl or meant to beat
my own daughter

with a walking stick, all the mirrors I looked into,
reflections missing.

 

Instinct

—In
2002, Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad killed ten people and wounded three in sniper attacks surrounding Washington, D.C.

Because they are aware somehow, and cannot flee
from their knowledge,

the pair of ducks wait by the pool until I am done swimming,
the female mottled in buffy-brown,

squatting at the pool’s edge, the male upright,
metallic green head like a gothic tower.

They enter one orange foot at a time when they
hear the click of the gate, signaling my exit.

Where did they learn this distance?

Did they witness duck decoys, the flight of a damaged mallard?
Or is it instinct, the way we stop at a lion’s mane

or a grizzly’s upright bellow? The snipers folded down the back seat,
access to the trunk for a gunport and a rifle.

They practiced aiming, breath control, did drills on shapes and
shooter cards. They waved to neighbors,

mowed their lawn, purchased doughnuts at the Circle K, said
pardon and no thank you.

What if the ducks are right in fearing everything,
even their own?

 

Work that appears on the KR web site is from The
Kenyon Review
and all applicable copyright restrictions apply.

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