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Published: Sat Oct 15 2005
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
from In the Language of Here and Now


My mother and my grandmother returning
to China are ravenous, as if poised

on a threshold: October markets
glimpsed from the taxi entice them,
stalls with melons and persimmons, a Kodachrome

from childhood. They make a request
to stop at the stand selling hot milk in wooden bowls.

My grandmother sniffs air thick with coal smoke
for the scent of burnt sugar; she will follow her nose
into a labyrinthine hutong, forsaking us.

For my mother, it’s the dried watermelon seeds
she used to crack and eat compulsively, leaving a trail

in a dark wood. But nothing they buy on our way back
from the Temple of Heaven tastes as they remember it.


At the mouth of a lane snaking beyond
the concourse, a river of bicycles swallowed me.

I was lost among crowded stalls, the air
bruised with coal smoke, at some border between
despair and wanting to be lost.

I hadn’t yet eaten the seeds that would
keep me there, though the place

was what I hungered for: a forgotten past,
the same iron weights and measures,

old men in a willow’s filigreed shade
playing dominoes, their companions finches
and canaries in bamboo cages, tiny souls

flickering like taillights on the bicycles
I followed, hoping to be led back out into light and air.

See what's inside AGNI 62

The poems of Leslie Chang have appeared or are forthcoming in The Nation, *AGNI, *and Literary Imagination. She lives in New York City and is at work on her first collection of poems. (updated 10/2005)

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