Tenants by Jane Wong
Above: my neighbor's feet, fussing from room to room,
velvet hooves tendering my head. Was the fruitcake
curdling? Would the mail make it there on time? (it must
make it there on time)? Below: I try to light
the stove. Little clicks of the tongue, heat and water, my altar.
Underground: my grandfather breathes through a silk jacket,
a dandelion mane resting between his lips. Here: every living
thing is an altar. Sweet worms kiss his knuckles to sleep,
loose doorknobs I open: story after story. My family:
a spiral staircase, a fish spine picked clean, the snail's
miasmic song. 1982: sun gasping through splintering snow,
a lemon slice folded in my mother's cup, a generous
bulb, a lighthouse across oceans she can not see. 1985: we slept in
a split-level attic, squirrels running across
the beams. 1964: my grandfather offers my mother one egg.
Her brother looks on, fists full of ash. 1967: to make
the body dance with sticks and stones to break alone. Within:
prison, rose finch feathers float through bars, what he can not
talk about. My grandfather sings to me in a ladybug-speckled coffin,
the color of good teeth. Above: my grandmother keeps
heaps upon heaps of oil containers, poured and repurposed
in hunched Fanta plastic. This living can be so quiet sometimes,
you can hear the lights humming. Moss slinks into my walls
and is painted over, white to mint. I touch
the wall, these porous lives, this dense understory. Today: I cut
a telescope in two to see everything inside, out:
© 2021 Jane Wong. “Tenants” is taken from Wong’s collection How to Not Be Afraid of Everything, which was published by Alice James Books in October 2021 and is now available to purchase wherever books are sold. Her first collection, Overpour, was published by Action Books in 2016. In addition to being a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, Wong has been awarded numerous fellowships and residencies. She is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University. You can find out more about Wong and her work on her website.
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