Grace Shuyi Liew

In A Simplified Language, Tell Me About The Weight Of Sounds

When I first met my mother she was conducting electricity


I was born of a feeling




Just light


I died and came back to life in her still-flat belly


Her washed heart stopped completely for two-three beats


When she opened her eyes to the smell of hot lightning a feeling rose inside me


A charred gold band on her ring finger


Surely one keeps such mementos of life and grief




She sent the bad ring back to the goldsmith for a new one that same day


She didn’t believe in luck


It must have been a fake


Real gold is incorrigible even by the hottest fires


And fate is unknowable


I am now past the age she was yet birthday after birthday nothing changes


Even the most blameless part of this same sky has rolled on its belly


I am still not courageous enough to discard the blackened golds of my life


Fate is every mouth that has lovingly damaged my language


I still kiss those mouths


Let them grow heavy on mine


Intuition is optional


I look closely at people’s faces


Decide what they need


In a small game on my phone


I give a woman a cup of frowns


I lob the left ear off a man


It is not easy to give up even the things that don’t suit you anymore


We grieve hardest our lost prejudices


For they once pinned us in our places


Put a sky over our heads


Painted it an acceptable white


But I am not this we


My grief is categorically inaccessible to those whose paths to desire cut through mine


All my revelations arrive a decade too late; I have so many things to clarify


I just wish you knew how to ask what I want to be asked


My tendency to return to language isn’t inborn


The humiliated child’s only chance at unhumiliating herself is not a time machine but a stiff neck


I know too many Englishes


One, of dad’s colonial headmistress


Mrs. ________.


Spare the rod and spoil the child


That sort of biblical perversity that ransacked our kutu-filled hair


Roughened up our tongue to halt the slipping of words


Then, of mom’s grownup English workbook


A secretarial diction that drapes over your village stink


No she did stink unmetaphorically of drying sulphury rubber


Tropical bounty sunned to tautness


Some as big as warplane tires


Or small as pencil erasers we gnaw off


Later, of undersea cables that flower into colloquialisms and aphorisms


Each loose yarn’s unlocateable origin transmuted into a pang in the stomach


Try not to read this as ethnography


The British Empire subsisted on the bones of these stories in those final decades


Put your best intentions into something real, like a garden


Pangs are discernible only by their briefness


Sometimes a shot in the stomach


A flutter on the cheek


I feel even me closing in on myself


Whether or not bleeding a chicken out is primitive or interesting depends on


Who is doing the bleeding and who is doing the worship


To disregard a poet over self-doubt is like firing your plumber for having too many tools with which she unclogs your toilet


I am willing to be sacrificed to the sum of apprehension


Reticence pulled apart from disgrace


Having grown up caressing fields of Grass That Contains Shame


Small rows of small leaves that shrink to fold at the slightest external stimuli


The tip of my finger


Only to reopen seconds later


I am not this grass whose intelligence has been scientifically measured


To decide after repeated pummeling by the same stimuli that it will no longer react


The ability to self-impose a limit upon which transgression one ceases all performances of identity


Restraint is merely this ability to trade one kind of safety for another


A learnable trait while sprawled on low ground

Grace Shuyi Liew is the author of Prop (Ahsahta Press, 2016) and Book of Interludes (Anomalous Press, 2016). She is from Malaysia and currently resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.