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Aubade with Gravel and Gold

By Sally Wen Mao

I’m sick of speaking for women who’ve died
Their stories and their disappearances
bludgeon me in my sleep

Their language is the skein in my throat
that unravels every time a bullhorn blows,
every time a road

is paved, every time a railroad
is constructed, ballast to blast, built to last

against the orange flames
of an open, unwritten sky

The bad ballad
of a silenced, hellbent woman
bled its way into my jaws

And I wake up this morning, every morning
eating my disquiet

Crack my window open, their breath rushes in
Me, this body, the same weight
of disappearance, same weight
of fortune

Last night a woman from another century
entered me, and her male phantoms possessed
me, all night I was warm,
cold and savage with their touch

Heatless factories shorn of silk, muslin,
and selvage, machineries like guns,

no salve for the women’s cracked hands,
no salvaging their rations, their ambitions
for survival

There was the child of a famine
There was a girl sold for three gilded ounces
at the old San Francisco port

They sailed, they sailed, they sailed through me
and I turned gold with that touch

Added: Thursday, November 9, 2017  /  Used with permission.
Sally Wen Mao
Photo by Jess X. Chen.

Sally Wen Mao is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014). Her second book, Oculus, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2019. Her work has won a 2017 Pushcart Prize and is published or forthcoming in A Public Space, Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Guernica, The Missouri Review, Tin House, The Best of the Net 2014 and The Best American Poetry 2013, among others. The recipient of fellowships and scholarships from Kundiman, the New York Public Library Cullman Center, and Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Mao holds an MFA from Cornell University. She is the 2017-2018 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington at the George Washington University.

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