Mel Xiao

Like Blood In His Veins

He’s chugging Bud LightTM like
it’s nothing
and I feel it go down my own throat-sharp
needle pop pop
sour as the bile I’ll have to clean up later
–and he slams down his can hard enough
to turn the bottom into a
crater.
“Bottle King shit,”
and he’s slurring already
but he’s not ready to admit that
alcohol
isn’t actually like blood in his veins.
“Betcha those sunsabitches can’t–”
hiccup.
He’s always talking about
Those Sunsabitches
and really I’m starting to think
he’s talking about Anderson Cooper
on TV
because there’s no one else here,
there’s never been anyone else here
(no one at all),
it’s just him and me
just like it’s always been.
Same old everything.
Same broken picture frames,
same Frosty nightlight,
same CNN playing the
same shootings the
same politics the
same black men going to jail
right outside our window.
And I could hand him a
glass of water
but he’d just slam it down
and tell me I’m
“too young for this shit”
so I just
sit and
watch and
sigh.

And I imagine this
is what it’s like to die
a sinner-watch
the kettle come to a boil on the stove
and my father throw a can at it
to make it stop.

 

Something To Talk About

(i’m going to tell you a story today a story that reads like a nursery rhyme that’s how common it
is and i’m going to tell you all the parts all the facets of it that show a different picture like the
faces on a diamond slowly turning on a pedestal in an empty jewelry shop and here it goes)
Part one:
It’s 10:57,
a cloudy night in Los Angeles.
There’s a young black boy walking down the street,
he’s got his headphones on
with his hands in his pockets
and his hood up.
It was a hot day
and even though it’s night
the passing headlights still make you think
you can see the heat waves
coming off the pavement,
so of course
the boy’s got on basketball shorts,
isn’t that how the boys are?
He goes into a corner store
and comes out with a pack of cup noodles,
and I guess the sound of rustling plastic
sounds a lot like danger
because the next moment
the boy’s got three bullets in him,
one after another like
BLAM
BLAM
BLAM
and in that last frightened heartbeat spilling lifeblood out onto the pavement before a gathering
crowd of spectators we see a college student escaping a hectic, hateful world to…well, who
knows, but I sure do hope it’s quiet.
(yes yes it’s sad but it’s only the first part hang in there we’ve got a little more to go)
Part two:
A college girl is at a party
and she’s dressed down in a ponytail and her favorites,
the old jeans she’s had since she was fourteen
and her white Converse with Sharpie all over.
Someone offers her a red cup,
tells her it’s beer,
knows she won’t say no
because wouldn’t that be rude?
All she wanted to do was dance, really.
She dances
and she feels herself getting fainter
and she feels the hands tighten on her forearm
and the world falls over.
Fifteen minutes-or
maybe it’s fifteen days-later
she’s alone in a dark bedroom
with her heartbeat banging on her eardrums
and her favorite jeans lying on the floor by her feet.
She’ll tell her friends,
she’ll tell the police,
and she’ll find the boy who lured her there
but he’ll remind everyone that he’s an athlete
and he’ll get off with a slap on the wrist while the girl isn’t allowed to dig herself out of her own
grave because his varsity letters are worth more than her virginity and her ripped jeans.
(we all know where this is going but there’s nothing we can do about it now is there)
Part three:
Twelve students killed in a school shooting.
Part four:
Subcontract factory explodes in India and none of the child workers make it out alive.
Part five:
28 year old woman murdered by abusive boyfriend, body discovered in the bedroom.
Part six.
Part seven.

Part eight part nine part ten part eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen seventeen
eighteen nineteen twenty twenty-one twenty-two twenty-three TWENTY-FOUR TWENTY-FIVE
TWENTY-SIX TWENTY-SEVEN TWENTY-EIGHT

(breathe.)
I’ve told you a story today.
It’s a story that reads like a nursery rhyme, that’s how common it is.
I’ve told you all the parts, all the facets of it that show a different picture
like the faces on a diamond slowly turning on a pedestal in an empty jewelry shop.
These are the words in bold at the bottom of our TV screens
and the news articles we shake our heads at before clicking away.
Some men and women and children didn’t have that option.
They did not get to choose between stories,
life or death,
love or horror,
and only when we see them in thumbnail pictures
or dissect them in psychology class
or use them as just something to talk about
can we see what went wrong.
And the only thing we can say is,
“Again?”

 

Letters To My Mom

Dear Ma,

I’ve went out of my mind at least once.

When they brought me down the hallway to the emergency room,

I thought for a moment that you were there.

I thought I could hear you.

I thought maybe you had followed me in

and you were chasing after me,

listening for gurney wheels instead of footsteps to follow.

Dear Ma,

I woke up this morning after dreaming about your baked salmon,

about how soft it was and how you always made sure it was soft enough

to cut with the side of a fork.

I think I was eating in my sleep.

But I woke up with the taste of formaldehyde on my tongue,

the succulent leftovers of pills taken dry.

Dear Ma,

After I got my learner’s permit,

you were scared to put me behind the wheel.

In fact, I was fully aware of the way you grabbed onto your seatbelt.

You sat in the car anyways.

I joked that I wouldn’t drive us over the side of the road on purpose,

and you didn’t look too convinced.

Maybe that should have made more sense to me.

It wouldn’t be the first time you almost died by car.

Dear Ma,

One night back when I still played piano,

I practiced for six hours straight,

well past midnight and well past

what I could handle.

At two in the morning,

I hit the keys so hard you heard something snap from upstairs

shut the lid

and just cried.

You came down,

peeled a clementine for me,
and sat on the other end of the piano bench.
The rest of the house was so quiet.
Dear Ma,
You didn’t get it when I started writing poetry.
You grew up looking for rice to put on the table, not words.
Does what I write mean anything to you?
Did my late night forages in the kitchen ever bother you?
Didn’t you ever think your daughter would be more like you?

Dear Ma,
I wonder if you’re proud of me.

 

city of lights

1.
i’ve been staring at the same dead bulb on my ceiling
for the past three hours.
the power was cut,
and the wiring is spitting sparks in the rain
on the pavement outside,
hissing underneath the growing sound of sirens.
i can’t see anything beyond my feet.
i like it better this way.
2.
the city is a russian nesting doll,
a body in
a body in
a body.
a universe folded upon itself.
3.
looking down the barrel of a gun
is the most powerful place to be.
feel the cold metal under your hands,
focus on the target,
and tighten your grip just after you exhale.
and behold:
a human body,
opened up for observation.
4.
inside all of us is
steel beam
and telephone wire
jointed by cable
and roads growing out like
hands.
hold hands,
hold concrete,
hold cities.
5.
the ambulance showed up at my neighbor’s house today
didn’t bring their sirens with them,
as silent as an angel ought to be,
autumn needle rain falling in the headlights.
my parents went out with raincoats and brave faces,
pushed the trolley in with the emts
and told me not to follow.
i did.
from under the trees that looked like veins
dripping water on my head,
i watched as
the white sheet flattened out
the volunteer crossed herself
and the wife covered her face
and the world was dampened,
by rain
and
by last rites.

All poems ©2016 by the author. Used with permission.

About Mel Xiao
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