portrait of mother as nüwa
mother sculpts me out of yellow river clay, kneads my ribcage
into shape, leaves me in the afternoon sun to dry.
by evening, there is already a lump in her mouth. she reaches in,
finds my name tucked beneath her tongue. breathes life into my still
when I am five, mother and I are close: umbilical cord
intact in our dreams. hands like silk, voice
like a bright, clear window of light. mother tells me
there was once a man who cracked the universe into halves
like a chicken egg, willed himself into the world until his breath
became wind, his bones diamonds, and his left eye the egg-yolk sun.
I am nine, and the sky is broken. curtains of rain falling
from holes in the sky. mother is perched on the windowsill,
five-colored stones and needle and thread in her hands.
I try to say thank you but the words fall out of my mouth—
native language severed at the spine. to me,
forgetting is an unclean word. forgetting is the knife with which i cut
out my own heart from my chest and leave it to rot. mother sees this,
takes my silence as regret before leaping
towards the fractured sky.
at fifteen, I have already chosen a new name for myself—a shiny new
american thing. its edges are too brittle, syllables too sharp
for mother to swallow
without drawing blood. mother,
stop pretending that you don't shiver every night before
you fall asleep. stop pretending that I don't cover my skin so the sun
won't stain me a deeper shade of yellow. stop pretending
that I can still recall the imprint of your palms
on my clay skin. I look outside
and the sky ruptures into turtle shells and ashes.
holes everywhere. I call for mother
but she is nowhere to be found.