sestina to a publix supermarket
no one knows that ancient gomphotheres once roamed
the publix parking lot and that we could unearth eons of history
if we were to demolish the tarmac pavement, bare hands
scooping out dirt to find glossy, whispering fossils.
every time i push a shopping cart across the lot, my neck
tingles: my strands of hair are alive, sweat gathering.
nonetheless, i’m careful when i do my shopping, gathering
buoyant kale and siamese cherries, mild guacamole; roaming
through carefully demarcated aisles for black beans, neck
up: the cheapest ones are always on the top shelf. i remember history’s
mastodons died in gales of arrows so i could choose between two fossils
of existence, bush’s or goya, and i almost cry. i take goya in my hands.
but all this is merely prelude for something else: my clammy hands
on the shopping cart handle, free teriyaki samples gathered
in little paper cups, smart shopper’s coupons clipped—i want to create a fossil.
no one else would understand this but you, miocene dawn roamer
of the streets of fort lauderdale before devoted historians
could even begin to chart your existence by graphing an arching neck.
so hollywood beach starts and ends at the nape of your neck
and after half-awake extinctions i reach instinctively for your hands.
you told me that the rings in a woolly mammoth’s tusk reveal history
in wobbling lines of chibanian sonnets; at your collar, eupatagus shells gather
like love letters. i bought salmon, your favorite, a romp
through the recipe equating fillet with fossil.
and what exactly am i trying to prove with this fossil?
that we loved each other? that our emotions carbonized in necklaces
of film? that we sat down for dinner? i can’t think that we merely roamed
this earth without remains. when i passed you the rice, our hands
brushed, and i could already see the stir-fry oil gathering
at the bottom of the pan, whatever that meant to cenozoic history.
for now, though, i see phosphenes of historic
migration patterns. the supermarket radio plays fossils
of old 2012 pop hits and i feel oddly sentimental: i want to gather
checkout aisle kinder eggs close to my heart. the cashier bends her neck
to punch in the keycode for artichokes, darting hands
across the pad; i’m staring at kit kats and milky ways, eyes roaming.
the fossils are humming, or perhaps the air conditioner; i gather
my groceries, hands already aching like an arthritic mesohippus neck.
tonight i’ll roam the empty parking lot, screeching tires a wild cry for history.
my mother awakens on an apartment floor in manhattan, shivering
a Golden Shovel from “After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly” by Jane Wong
haunted by the neon soothsayer in times square, the one howling we
will forgive you should you seek mercy from god, when you wake
to dust on a cold apartment floor you think of all the ways in
which you have sinned. when you took a dirty razor to the
familiar beast of your tongue, watched muscle part down the middle
so that you might speak chinese with one half & cracked windows of
manhattan with the other. when you bent your back like a
stolen bicycle, let the east river tsunami wash over you because life
could not go on even if the faucet still leaked. when you were hungry.
& you turn against the floorboards, think of your father saying we
will always be proud of you. would they be proud now? to know you smear
peanut oil on washcloths? to know english nouns still taste like durian
in your gaping mouth? to know you pour salt & soy sauce along
the edges of your memories? but you dreamt of his words. our
village is the same. the swallows still call out your name, their mouths
arcing to your skies. we love you. but you dream of his words that sing,
that turn your onion crate existence to stars. how soft
the hum & static of the telephone, braiding silver in the slow death
of memory. you can’t fall back asleep. & you know tonight is not a
night as usual. tonight you choose whether to give yourself to the lullaby
of crashing forklifts, to the milky arms of billboard oracles, to this carcass
of foreign words. or else to stand in the takeout dawn, breathless
for your shift. to give yourself to the tenement teeth, to the greasy eros
of napkin prayers, to the billiard eyes, to the socks full of
pennies. or else to stand. if you’ll choose to do the work or to be licked
by it. for now, you open the window & slip moonbeams through your fingers.
Lydia Wei is a 17-year old writer and artist from Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her work has been previously recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Young Poets Network. She volunteers with Writopia DC to promote creative writing for children, and with Arts on the Block to create mosaics and public art installations for her community.