Poetry by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier
The Deepest Hours
Sometimes my infant daughter
wakes in the middle of the night
My husband and I lull her back
to sleep with our various
His trick is to stroke her ears and mine, to
put the radio on static and
These things work like hypnosis, like
narcotics, like prayer:
hit or miss.
Sometimes our desperate trying
reminds me of all the stops
my mother pulled out, years ago
to try and cheer herself up
about life: liquor, crystals, seminars, triathlons
and legal drugs that made her hair fall out.
I remember driving home late
a senior in high school
and seeing her dart
across the road in front of our house
barefoot, eyes wide. I slammed
on the brakes and
when the car stopped
inches short of her
she met my eyes.
through the windshield and
my mind kept trying to turn her into a deer.
Like a doe she darted off wildly
over the dirt shoulder and into
the dark door of the forest.
My father was waiting at home.
I don't know what to do, he croaked, and
it was the only time in his whole macho life
that he ever admitted as much to me, so
although he was an abusive bastard
I took him in my arms
in the deepest hours
I sway that way with my daughter
to sedate her.
I remember how
my mother slept
still as a stone, for days and days
when she finally came home.
It was like
she wanted to forget
her husband, her house
her thoughts and me and
recapture the darkness of the woods.
Those nights I
set my daughter on my stomach
facing me, wobbly
and we talk.
Her words rattle up from her little chest
and straighten out into
rapturous ooohs and aaahs.
I tell her
all of my secrets and
we stay awake
First published in The New Guard
In Svay Pak
I met two girls
priced to sell.
They were sisters
six and eight
both trained well
and I spent forty U.S. dollars
to take them for the night.
I bought one a Crush and one
a Fanta, like the sweaty red
fat jolly foreign Santa that I was
and tucked them in.
If there are better things
in the life after this
let the record show that I have
been remiss in earning them.
In the ripe wet air
I watched them sleep
even if I come up with
a way to keep them
feed them, house them, clothe and
there will be
opened on damp red sheets
more, bent over
cracked plastic seats, pried
on earthen floors.
There will be more:
sold when they mature or
In a small, idyllic
East Coast town
my father laid
my body down
and opened it.
Poverty alone, then, cannot explain
this unmapped latitude of the
adult human brain and
even when Svay Pak
will shoulder this pain.
I thought these thoughts as
I brought the girls back
the morning sun distilling
itself from the sky.
There were Cormorants
circling as we said goodbye and
I remembered that, in fishing towns
the men once tied these birds to boats.
They exploited their beaks and
pulled the fish from their throats.
I imagine that these watchful birds
came to understand
the long and short of human will.
There is something slightly human
in their voices still: something
familiar and forsaking.
Every day after that, in Cambodia, waking
I noticed the echoes of the Cormorants' calls.
They fell gently between the peeling walls
of the brothels of Svay Pak.
For some reason, they both wore dresses
Alina and Shawn—he ten, she twelve
in the corner of Casa Del Lago Mobile Home Park
where a giant mud puddle formed
the closest thing to a lake
in at least three square miles, and
we closed in an expectant knot around them
shaded by scrappy cedars:
twelve scrappy kids
from three scrappy families.
Shawn had lost a bet
(on purpose, we suspected, as each of us
had seen him following Alina—even
since before her mother bought her
the training bra—down root-ripped paths
around the park's square, beige club house
with its frayed lounge chairs and disappointing pool
up the center of the one real road that divided neat rows of
not so neat homes)
and now he had to marry her.
This is a real wedding, we told him
and afterward if we catch you kissing
even on the cheek
we'll beat your skinny ass.
Maybe, being ten, he hadn't understood
the accoutrements of weddings
how the bride always wore the dress
and the groom, the tuxedo
in the framed photographs our parents kept
or perhaps his big sister
ringleader of the day
had forced him into the drooping white cotton
that slid and slid and slid
off his shoulders. The low sky
went gray and
a bracing wind picked up.
Do it, said the sister in a voice that meant business
and even now I remember
more clearly than I do my own
first wedding, or even the one
that stuck, how a
cold drop struck my shoulder
and a station wagon appeared slowly
in the street, past the trees—paused, backed up
turned around and drove away as
they moved together to kiss
she in white and he in white; how he
leaned with his eyes closed
like a man on the edge of a cliff
his whole body
taut and perspiring
the sudden drop before him
First published by Kore Press
Photographs of Earth
Street love: not sugary-sweet love, CBS or any other BS love
not Hallmark Greetings or business meetings between merging CEOs—
sidewalk love, bruisable but unusable by any outside force, immune
to penetration, lapsed communication, plague of the American nation—divorce—
elusive, tricky, jealousy-provoking, not just mutual ego-stroking, dirty love
just doing it better than Nike and less sinkable than Cheerios because
dirty equals more than bed-breaking sex.
Dirt is what we came from, what we stand on, the bed we'll go to, tectonic flex
of the textures and colors of skin, bone and the long lines of blood within.
Quiet love: not necessarily intelligible, possibly slurred
like the first photographs of the earth—blurred
but unmistakably irreversibly revolving its way around the sun
steadily, not clamoring to be heard.
First published in The Comstock Review
We called them piñata girls
girls you could fuck the fun out of
otherwise known as
hit it and quit it girls,
cheap girls, girls who got
their lip-gloss at the dollar store, whose
fathers probably beat them
but my brother
he was always a sucker for sweets.
He fell hard for a piñata girl
pretty little thing named Sonia
and against our best advice
he married her. In time the rest of us
forgot what we'd called her, the way
we'd picked on him for wanting her.
Turned out she was a good girl
smart, clean, funny and loyal
part of the family. They were happy
for about ten years.
Then my brother found out
he had lymphoma, right around the time
his youngest son turned three.
His last day at home before
what we thought was to be
a brief hospital visit
but turned out to be a long one
was his son's third birthday.
My brother was a hero
that day, exhausting himself
keeping ten screaming boys happy.
Everyone was happy, all day.
At the end of the party
before my wife and I headed home
I found my brother
hunched on his knees in the yard
picking up ruffles of yellow paper.
I watched him gently patch up
with his big, slow-moving hands
the wide-eyed pony piñata
that the boys had battered open
for candy. “What the hell
are you doing,” I asked him, laughing.
My brother looked up at me.
“I'm taping her together,” he said
his eyes as wide as the pony's
in the dimming bronze light
“so we can keep her.”
First published in Mudfish
The Sleeping Couple
For years they slept bound, her
slender legs wound warmly in his
and their faces close, speaking in breath,
bartering in touch, until enough had
been said. Now they lie back
to back in their bed.
There is less physical talk.
Sometimes she feels his fingers
walk across her hip, like a solitary man
crossing a bridge, and once
she woke him with a quick squeeze
but there is little need
for exchanges like these. Outside,
a cold rain washes the trees
and a dim horizon blurs.
Massive clouds merge. Vast rivers join
and there is no conversation
as this occurs.
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