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Lessons on Lessening

In the rigmarole of lucky living, you tire

of the daily lessons: Sewing, Yoga, Captivity.

Push the lesson inside the microwave.

Watch it plump and pop and grow larval

with losses. Watch it shrink like shrikes

when they dodge out of this palatial

doom. On the sky’s torn hemline, this horizon,

make a wish on Buddha’s foot. How to halve,

but not to have—how to spare someone

of suffering, how to throw away the spare

key saved for a lover that you don’t

have, save yourself from the burning turret

with the wind of your own smitten hip.

Do you remember how girlhood was—a bore

born inside you, powerless? How you made

yourself winner by capturing grasshoppers

and skewering them? You washed a family

of newts in the dry husked summer, wetted

them with cotton swabs before the vivisection.

That’s playing God: to spare or not to spare.

In the end you chose mercy, and dropped

each live body into the slime-dark moat.

Today is a study in being a loser. The boyfriend

you carved out of lard and left in the refrigerator

overnight between the milk and chicken breasts.

Butcher a bed, sleep in its wet suet for a night.

Joke with a strumpet, save the watermelon

rinds for the maids to fry in their hot saucepans.

Open your blouse and find the ladybugs

sleeping in your navel. Open your novel

to the chapter where the floe cracks and kills

the cygnet. Study hard, refute your slayer.

from Mad Honey SymposiumFind more by Sally Wen Mao at the library

Copyright © 2014 Sally Wen Mao
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Published in Poems Sally Wen Mao

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.