Iris Chang (part of the #unsung heroes series)

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Why must the insightful carry the greatest weight?

in their teeth like a bit crunching down until they break

teeth all over the place, white against the dark

enamel lasts long after we are gone

your words are never broken Iris

the love others held for you cannot be undone

by spectacle or ire, you are immune now

as beautiful as you were in life your memory not forgotten

eulogized in statues and prophecy, courage in bronze

such is the legacy of those who live to help others

you shone a light where no light had been shone

perhaps it invited unbidden demons and the silk worm

perhaps it made you mad and rageful in Louisville

who can say what fuse is lit, how long it burns or

whether others haunt us to our fatal choice?

but who would not feel horror when unveiled

the gruesome atrocity of what humans are capable

your Nanking chronicles, bravely revealed

blowing your silver whistle over lies

whether secret hands held you down

commanding, speak not, no more truth released

or you became absorbed in the tragedy you wrote

my hope is you gaze down, aware of the love held

your beautiful face gracing the cover of your mom’s book

a legacy unfurling, one step, two, ever more

you will always rise higher than you thought

such is the way of the guide

needing sometimes to turn from her gift back to the world

to see the beauty held in their own

reflection

 

“The woman who could not forget: Iris Chang before and beyond The Rape of Nanking by Ying-Ying Chang (mom) and The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang.”

part of the hash-tag #unsung (heroes) series.

Ecstasy denied

tumblr_llxw06ogqm1qzn4kzo1_1280Here’s a moment of a girls’ life

it flickers, it flickers like a skirt, caught on a black railing, rented, torn, pried apart, and released, to flap, uselessly and without form

she’s lost her purse, her lipsticks rolled behind the bus and she didn’t put on her hose just right

the seams you see, they’re supposed to line up at the back where her heel hits the smooth patent of her shoe like how the girls in WW2 did it except they used eye-brown pencils because silk was needed for parachutes, oh and who can afford the cost of the worm?

that’s the way it should have turned out, fixing her seams, walking in with a kick and a smile, wooing her audience, beguile them, beguile them and they shall fall helplessly

exercise in futility, that’s not her, she doesn’t do performance art, that’s the image of her projected by those who believe, with her lips, and her green eyes, she’s kryptonite, such a bad bet, she’s a lame horse who prefers the stable, all those shrines to her potential, before she drank too much anxious about oh, more or less, everything in the world

and drinking they say, even in France now, is not du rigor but ruled out, if you wish to avoid your one out of eight women gets breast cancer statistic, what the hell? How to survive without sipping it down? Letting fermentation do its ritual on her guts, lifting her back into the gilded frame

she wished she were a boy, boys can still drink, boys don’t wear hose, they don’t have to worry as much if their armpits stink and they won’t have another boy tell them that their breasts sag when they rise up and clasp the void

if she were a boy she’d want to be a pretty boy the kind that other boys would probably hit on, with a large top lip and gleaming hair, because pretty gets you candy and she has a sweet tooth

if she were a pretty boy she’d try out fucking a girl just to know what it felt like

to be a version of herself with other body parts

would the girl look at her with frightened eyes, hooded and suspicious like a Russian doll, daub her sides with ancient gild, would she open her legs only because she wanted what you held back, in your frayed pocket, tightly wrapped, here it is, take a mouthful, bitter taste, will we live longer in our knowledge? The apple glows in the darkness from its position alone hanging from the lower branch of knowledge.

when she wakes up in the night and holds her singed hair back, hugging porcelain throne vomiting what she’s learned time and time again just doesn’t stay down

couldn’t she purchase another way of coping?

apparently pills have their own set of demons

she learns the art of the mask and strips for the doctor who takes his swab. It’s a painless test he lies, grimacing as he breaks her bones and pries denial apart, you won’t feel a thing

and then everything turned blue and the water didn’t stop running down the sink in the wrong direction and the clocks lost their hands and rolled into glue sticking to the inside of her emptiness, where no life was, sharing its wasteland

on E she danced until the fat at the top of her clavicle, that little jiggle you get when you drink lots of milk as a child and push your little breasts together, grew and people said well … don’t you have a fine pair on you?

not really she’d think if you could see how long it takes to get this look, all the tape in the world, and they’re still not really sticking

a bit like her, unhinged at one corner, asking; peal me back see what’s underneath

her own preference was for girls with skinny chests and protruding nipples she felt they were saying fuck you to every kind of lame expectation, their knife-like hip-bones, shaving her under the sheets like the incisors on wolves, the anger glowing in their eye, a Cheshire cat with blade

but she was too soft for that hard look and wore instead the conicular implements of torture Madonna had cast off

looking back it was fucking embarrassing

when did she learn authenticity? On the way home from the hospital when it rained and the dried blood on her legs, wound down her legs like a cat’s tail and smeared the grass beneath? she saw only mouths open, trying to speak, what do they want to say?

authenticity died between her legs and grew cold in formaldehyde and the rubbing of fingers itching for a cigarette

walking the streets homeless, holing up in an office during night hours, smelling the feet of those who worked there during the day kicking their shoes off

stains on the office sofa that never came off

when he would deliver her bag of drugs and she paid him with herself because she had nothing else

how much would that equate per kilo?

quite a good bargain all things considered, it was like he said, she made him act that way by the tilt of her head

I’m only tilting my neck to get a better view of the strippers on Wardour street she’d say standing at the window, neon blinking in and out, in and out, little panties not yet showing their wear and tear, don’t worry they soon will undo their pretty dark pink bows

he told her you have the smallest waist you look like a french dancer in a Toulouse Lautrec painting

I am a french dancer she would reply and smoke a Sobranie to the gold rim to make the point

gimme a break, you don’t even like Ricard Pastis and those cigarettes are Russian

you’ve got a point there, Pernod is vile, mix me something chopped up, cut it fine, I want to hear music, open your eyes, open your fucking eyes so I can hear

I like the taste of aniseed

I hate it, it reminds me of my grandfather’s fingers and that imported saddle soap he used, when I looked into his throat he had coals burning there, they could extinguish your heart just by breathing on you

change the record / or you’ll kill the mood

he was always in the mood, even when he hated her he wanted to ransack her empty space

lucky she licked the bag clean or her price would be too high, nothing is too much for a fistful of dynamite

I wish I could live inside you, he would whisper, eyes already rolling like a horse about to be led to slaughter, to the exit sign

christ I can’t think of anything worse, she’d reply into the pillow, limbs trembling, her neck aching with his pummel

how long can it go on? can you make yourself wet when you’re faking? Or do you have to run to the bathroom and stick your fingers down your throat? Fake sudden illness to avoid an overdose of you

back in the days when her bladder was strong she could take a pounding and not need to pee afterward, they used to say, you can eat motherfucking hot curry, be given one like a sailor and still walk straight

how many sailors were bent over themselves and filled with whiskey and crab claws she wondered

but you stand up too long, with eyes on your back unpicking your defenses it gets harder

how many times can you shout, oh yeah baby just like that, just like that, you’re the best

he is hard he is inside her he feels like metal she feels like clover and the bees the bees swarm around her obscuring her open mouth the color of raspberries

that’s why she never cuts her hair you can hide so far inside if you carve out a tree and wait patiently for the thorns to do their climb

the wood cuttings of her twins mocking her sins, cooing; what a dirty little girl, you turned out well darlin

I want my moneys worth, he would say half in jest, nostrils crusted with crystal, beckoning her with dirty fingers

take the blue pill, take any pill, watch yourself swallow, there you go, to bed now child, tomorrow will be another show starting at six pm promptly and ending, never

she’d pretend she was sea anemone, anyone else, the girl outside in Soho gyrating to some euro pop song her long fake nails glittering against piercings speaking rapid Lithuanian into a pink phone

her nipples hurt where he burned them with his need to leave a mark, a tattoo artist without his equipment he improvised his layers of penetration

give me something to remember bitch or I’ll make it hurt more

she thud lifelessly above him like an unmoared boat seeking harbor, half-conscious with sorrow, afterward she lay closed off and drugged, as peaceful as an envelope that has been licked shut

and never, ever, ever did she learn to undo, the need to exclude herself from the world

so where’s her next fix? how does she stop wanting it to fill her veins with code

listening to the grind of the world outside, a room with a view boarded over and willingly comatose, two words inscribed on her tomb, ecstasy denied

 

Recommendations for healing from a distance

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I told a compassionate jurist once, the recipe for understanding the anxious at heart:

the most disturbing clamor, is that of positivities drum

it beats loudly outside their chamber

be grateful for life it proclaims

illuminating sub-text running a ticker tape parade

if you are not grateful you are a bad person

 

for we know, the anxious will always examine

the inverse and underside

as they themselves are examined and categorized

if you say well at least be glad you are not dead

they will consider all those who seek life

so desperately and why they

who remain unsure at water’s edge

do not perish instead

(take my place! take my place!) (what crimes exist within our fates!)

if you say well, it could be much worse

they will consider all the terrible things that can occur

and condemn themselves for any pain

 

it is the nature of the anxious mind to examine

things in detail

so when they’re told to be happy

go to the gym every day and wash your hair

eat right, socialize even when you feel quiet

through positive action you can get a handle on what ails you

the inverse message reads

and if you still feel sad or anxious afterward you are to blame

it is that sub-text that haunts the most

cure is the curse is the cure is the curse

maybe if it were not seen as elective

subj-text: I choose to feel this way

torn into pieces flayed by wolves

a part of me wants to live like this

how absurd

would we say that of someone with cancer?

you know you want this disease! You brought it on yourself!

 

ironically depressed and anxious souls make

good bed fellows

when they say misery loves company it is a judgement

wedged between passive and aggressive

you choose to intensify your downfall is the implication

but in truth

those who will reach for you in the darkness and say

come take my hand I will walk with you and light the way

are many times those least equipped to do it

often it will not be those who think themselves compassionate

they will stand on the fringe and shout

recommendations for healing from a distance

as if the leper who cannot be touched

must stand apart and die in a new brand of isolation

 

the divisions of the haves and have-nots

contributions to misery

like tossing a penny in a well and making a wish

is not as good as causing that wish to come true

by actions

not scolds

not rebukes

Stigmata

 

093c3ac60161fdab3e0a048f7e5ccf6cThe day they pricked paint into her back

permanent and violet

she grew a lotus mandala

lending a little stigmata wisdom

to the thin bones of her grow

for she didn’t know that year

whether to follow sharp train tracks and disappear

into the woods not to be discovered

or walk into winter blizzard

feeling her way through to

imposing red bricked hospital

sagging against its frame like

an auburn flame caught in globe

shaken from foothold

placing her wet gloves on chaffing radiator

tell the patient man behind his mahogany desk

littered with prescriptives for disease of the mind

I am not well I am not well I am not well

you must take me from my freedom and tie me up

in a satin bow atop a new gift of hope

somewhere I cannot think or pass

in my mouth the marble and coinage

of my jailer

 

if she had let herself fall then

with his regard whiskering her lament

and plummet like a fire consumed comet

for the first time without control just

the ember of her flaming skirt searing

a series of interrupted tap dances

spanning shortened  life

in the direction of diminishing

sticky mouthfuls of sweet jam taken in dark

tap tap tap tap

braille, wittled cane, white and wooden

hers was the fear of generations

her grandmother, her grandfather

laid to rest in sweet meadow of

Mont-Ventoux, beyond lavender fields

where their metallurgic table of elements

could rest from unquenched desire to end

take your medicine

euthanize the unrest

let the sleep of the dead

usher silence in prayer robe

when he died

holding his dry paintbrush

when she died

clutching her wet scripture

when their loss mixed in formula

writing her DNA prophecy

she learned to lace up her unease

absenting breath needing not to breathe

not today doctor

not ever

these houses for the poor of heart

medicated, inviscerated, shuffle in

do not come out

 

she left her gloves on the radiator

followed her tracks back through virgin snow

easier when you cannot really see where you go

somehow standing amidst the roar

sea on dry land, oceans in desert flowers

it might take defying your legacy to survive

it might take not wishing to be the next pin to escape

bowled over by shared cross-stitched disease

even the empty

even the weak

 

she got a tattoo of a lotus

on the small of her back

where men had whispered hot and slow

you are slender like a branch

I want to bend you in two as green willow

will not snap

supple in bow, play me never

this girl has forged her symphony war

out of rising in morning, ready to give up

she survived percolating tendency

and the ones who thought her lean

pressing her against shiny coffee tables

unbuckling their murmuring distaste

for respect

thinking her a orfice, a receptacle, alabaster secret

and not a girl capable of swallowing fire

 

they did not believe in signs and wonders

nor warriors who wear no armor

she stands in her diluted ink

she is the beginning, the circular, the ending

of ways we are forced to be

a stain lies on her skin

it feels like an angels imprint

lending courage for the quiet

of soul, who gathers the leftovers

surviving beyond her welt

she is merciful to the meek

as a storm gathering in force, swells against

shore, building momentum

turning the raw belly of sky

monochrome

There you are

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about one hundred years ago

or three years

or just yesterday

I lay in your bed

smelling the indent and the roll

of your dream life when I am not

trying to look through your eyes

into your soul

About one hundred years ago

or three years

or just yesterday

I stood over your bed

stripping the sheets

smelling where you lived and breathed

all those nights and days

we should have been making memories

now folded away

About one hundred years ago

or three years

or just yesterday

I smoothed the mattress clear

of the weight you inhabited and

little traces curled here and there

persisting to remind me

of the way the moon lit

your sleeping face

now you will always have your eyes closed

maybe now you can see

the shapes of angels

watching over you until

it is my turn and I come to find

if you have been waiting all this time

a year, a month, a day

one hour is too long

without looking into your eyes

to see what I love reflecting back

like dark diamonds capturing stars

will wink out

and there you are

Taking my time to die

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I pretend you are there

when the world shows its cold belly

when loved ones become enemy

I reach for your solace in need

forgetful when happy, without equal reason

ill prepared for falling we climb as Icarus, nearer to sun

without parachutes too often startled into early grave

those who do not command their outcome

I believed you when you said I am safe within your arms

this world of ours inviolate

but they were just words

like this is just water mixed with blood and wine

spotting the clean sheets in which I lie

taking my time to die

now that I am alone

just one more soul who cannot

bear the taste of this world without

you

The waves

12523897_1631510570443424_1060343369498657444_nAll the trees looked away

on raw knees

shingle and sand castles

wet newspaper of old stories

yellow fag butts, half empty cider cans

containing sweet succor

one last piece of chocolate give the child

before she loses herself

her best toy clean from wash

smelling of home and tulips

sea makes ghosts of us

running brine like hot semen

searching fruitless loins

kicking against tin cans

bricks do not prize apart

one wet wall from another

we clamor against ageing need

spill the first glass

pour the benediction

here we leave our umbilical chords for advent

what came to be in deserted fair grounds

gold paint flaking against scarlet mouths

wooden horses rolling their eyes

softly dancing on platforms with scratched song

walk out as far as the pier takes you

he watches from his metal bed

strung with his spot lit horror

thin muscles tight with longing

hips like razors privately digging into

your flailing conception

it’s the price

bed sheets left to rinse out your scream

don’t cut your hair don’t spare your wrists

his was a sharp entry into your sleep

run on water-logged deadened feet

past the chip shop hording its quiet fat

where veiled women stare at first light

breaking over cracked lips the train

crying past in low throated whistle

down damp cobbled steps emptied of market

into space without endings or slow buttons

the sea is white with fury

her mouth mounts your need

swallowing the bitter salt of ragged release

beneath stains we see the outline

here lay the girl who caught a bus

carrying her clean underwear like a flag

climbed into her part as a glove

here she is pinched by her starvation

horror painting her eyes purple

ebbing on tide with scissored legs fighting

their eventual knot a violin played in fire

she opened her flute to high ceilings

reedy sound echoing off salvaged walls

fast fury unzipping protest

be a good child bow your head

stay still when flame chews

stroke the boy who demands

fist around your throat starving

paper ghosts fall into obedient rows

feel the rush of angels in her touch

he said I hope you give decent head

I’ve been waiting to break your alabaster

like new buildings devour old

never knew what stood before

leaving thin pockets full of stones

better swim with indigo weeds

hair imprinting shadows on hot breath

goodbye is hello

you learned hard on scalding youth

taking a straw from a tall glass

sucking it dry

my child is the color of clouds

meeting at the point of horizon

where storms gather to make glass

he indented himself like a tattoo

when she climbed out she could not feel

where he pricked her empty sadness

leaving a colander of spilt torch-light

pent-up boys with dusty souls

touching warm radiators, hanging

apologies on skinny shoulders

sounding against sagging mattresses

one two-three is all it took

a sharp knife cutting the choir

freedom twists at a price

he rose like the swell, filling her

the first time you never forget

they whispered behind sticky fingers

girl pull down your hems

cover your spindle chest

close your legs to the roar

hear the waves

hear the waves overtake you