What Will Not Keep Us
To Lee, kuv tus niam laus
The evening is lined in root dust,
white oleander fortifying
a neighbor’s yard,
our father’s execution rippling
in the water,
the sun which will never rise
the same way twice.
Our flaring livers assume position
staging song to bear straight
over the ashes
of mother’s lemongrass,
cov taub peb mam haus noj.
Are we shrapnel again in the morning?
The water now rusty,
the water rowed twice,
our stomachs silken with milk.
Of the gardens we ensnare
we meet ourselves
in the harmony of birds
beyond the peaches,
catching with due diligence
the singular leaf ripped
in this scene.
In the darkening eaves
of the canna lilies
we are the only eyes.
May we hope for better or the moon
will ask for more.
May we know any better.
We know already the rice fields
won’t grow tall enough
to hide our bodies
when we need to lie down.
The fields were not meant for us.
Do we understand?
The alarm is miles from the flowers.
In Memory of Misremembering
Numerical empire, fertile, dimming along the softened sections of your side smile,
surfacing in a bucket of boiling water, spread out on sulfur soaked newspapers.
Remembering the ways in which I dismember you, counting effortlessly on the things
you did and didn’t do. Counting the bowls, the time, the soup I’m not to give you.
Did you think I could forget about the peony that spilled from your waist? The peony
springing wild-tail into the halls of elephants, into the thrones of lyrical monkeys,
the rising third breast intended to nurse the wide-eyed sun.
Hail the woman only you can handle.
All your blood gone for the next century. O mother, take cover, take cover, take cover!
Descending in reward you land palm first, striking the plate of the earth with your mark
of discipline. Did you think I could forget the iron eggs you greedily ate in the misshapen
land of banana groves? Your laughter turned mist and your speech of return outmatched.
Might I count every flycatcher that has come to court you, your voice folding to the sounds
of the shore, your hands clapping in surprise to dispel the bad joke laid upon you.
Who could dissuade you?
In the rungs of good weather, in the tombs of our throats, in the linens of our shame.
May you strike again so that our ears feel hard and leathery, so that we can map away the blood
in this brilliant hemisphere. Like the cull ox of your dreams, let me wander my safe hands
and feet into the springs of your eyes. Let me cut down the sick tree. Allow me to round up
the burning dress and throw it over the rice paddies. Tell me where to look. Permit me to see.
Year of the Cardinal’s Song (VII)
Moving along the muted shore Osage oranges
blistering in the waters
Above starlings staving in plays of elation
One thousand & one breaths shot in all directions
including the ground
The Scioto River imitating always the main artery
sweeping within me a deliverable autumn
My shadow a tethering of apologies
in the shape of koj daim di ncauj
Stone blue & ill weathering
From the belly of the waters
the gathering of a single catfish pouting
with leaves in tow
Back above vultures parading in yards
& yards of gray sky
Your drowsy organs
what’s left of you
immured in this river
A feed so clandestine the talons come out
on time to love you & regularly
The means of this season heralded
by trees in ribbed precision
I am sorry brother
Again I cannot tell if you’re listening
about the writer
Khaty Xiong is a Hmong American poet who hails from Fresno, CA. She is the author of Poor Anima (Apogee Press, 2015) and three poetry chapbooks: Ode to the Far Shore (Platypus Press, 2016), Deer Hour (New Michigan Press, 2014), and Elegies (University of Montana, 2013). She has received a fellowship from MacDowell Colony and a grant from the Ohio Arts Council. Her work has been published in POETRY, theNew York Times, How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology, and elsewhere.