Samsara by Jenny Xu

Jenny Xu was the winner of the 2015 Wendy Xu Poetry Prize for her piece, "Samsara."

A man of few characters

             his tongue relaxed in admiration when his eyes glanced off

                          the swell of the Pearl Tower

                                                    the swerve of the World Financial Center

                                                                 which she saw in her mind as a cheap bottle opener   but he

                                                                          saw as a samurai

sword in view four but in truths a two faced thing

a hollow glass pulse


Shanghai      thousand faced        carries her towers high

                                                                 on hundred arms to distract disciples from seeing

                                            her crueler expressions


                               chopping chives   the woman knew

                                                                                                                                                 she retched when she stared

upward so she kept her eyes at smudged level


                                                                               Not so her husband who still gawped like a country boy


The second transformation to fish on a block      remind me   crowed the Goddess  who do you think you


             Her slim synthetic pencil skirts still hang behind the television and she sometimes passes by to run

her fingers through sleek grain

                                                                                        Bent wide then thin      she   who had tasted

                                                          the sting of Maotais


She beat herself bloody against street tides

                                                                        To think she had wanted to leave the curving stone pathways

cutting paddies into the characters they are named for

               four       squares      within            one

                                                                                        what balance    

where the two wound home together when they were school children       who called

for the child             she had cast                   for his hand to bend him at right angles to her side



              While walking out to get groceries she often thought she saw herself or a sister

                                                                                     a daughter recognizable

                          by the rural whiff of fresh pork and cheap denim    sometimes she saw

only another stranger like the last spawned from subway maws

                                                                                                                   The hack of constant cigarette clouds

soon swirled through her nostrils to familiarity

                                                                                                        nauseating fumes of sewers mingling with

grudging pangs for anything salvaged

                 from street side vats of fry oil pools


He hoists open hands halfway up to heaven

bundles of steel atop his spine


returning at night to the keeled cinder block within which she unrolls their daily bed

                                                                              The excesses of the city crouch together there

particulate shot eyes       veins reeling a chemical beat   lungs flapping open gilled in supplication

burn yuan for mercy