the nation of aphasia

by Xiao Yue Shan

when a writer goes missing in china
we take the red and gold paper emblems
that display the character for luck
off of our doors and paste them
over our mouths. and we go back to
the old books to learn again
what we’ve learned for millennia,
that you can command armies or
recompose history or traverse
from xian to changsha to mount lu
or buy a dozen eggs and none of it
will mean that your life is a promise
your country makes to you.
hong kong is a dewdrop glittering
in mid-january. we close our eyes
to take its temperature, trying to find
just the right word. the rain
only a sweet-tasting silhouette against
the gleaming skyline. late-day light
spreads a white sheet over the windows
and no one can see in. no one can see out.
still, no one ever thinks this is the day
someone will knock on the door
asking you to identify your husband
by his handwriting. how is it that
we have made a culture out of
paying a heavy price. wearing out stones
with water. chasing the sun across
the eastern front with our poems
closing in behind us like lost birds.
the gardens we do not tend. the paper
boats we do not try in the yangtze.
imagine your life is the thing
that is trapped on the tip of your tongue,
the word that is almost realized,
but you can’t quite think of.