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Lunar New Year, 1988


Doors plastered with red paper cutouts
so that the oncoming year passes these houses by.

Sweep out the insistent winter.

Make what you will out of ritual—
the relative with the steadiest hands cuts the hair of her cousins.




      *



Grain alcohol in a thimble glass.

The wife bleaches out the urine smell from the bathroom tile
while suffering the clean cuts of an insult.

And the husband?
He's out in the yard sucking on his cigarettes
and pondering prime numbers.

This year, a cluster of buildings in Hefei grew more buildings.




      *





Everyone is pleased by a story of plenty.

The husband and the brother-in-law remove every item from the refrigerator
and arrange it all on the old card table for a Kodak photo.

It's the first point-and-shoot in the neighborhood.

The iron-rich spinach and clementines loose in their skins.
One bottle of artificial mango drink for show.

How quickly a photograph can erase all labor.
It says: we are sated, but the watercress and the pork are unending.

Frugality and daily rationing cropped out.

The camera neuters the present, so what becomes past cannot breed.




      *



Envelopes arrive from a university overseas,
a new life activated.

The husband will go first. He purchases the family's only suitcase.

Already he knows when he boards the plane
this city will appear small, as will his life.

His clothing, moreover, will mark him
as someone who had to earn his way.

Even what hasn't yet cracked into being
can at any time exert its pull.

The whole neighborhood emerges at dusk.

Wakefulness drawn from the red applause
of firecrackers.

In the alleyway of my childhood home,
you can see I'm covering my ears.

           At my back:
           the years ahead, strangely lit.


Jenny Xie

Eye Level
Graywolf Press


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