Poems from Katy Li
you are sitting in your kitchen
writing love letters to ghosts,
sending half-grown tulips out
that no one has touched
in a very long time.
between one and the next
you conquer small tasks:
scraping peeling paint off the tabletop,
pinning old war medals on the wall
next to your water bills,
watering the green bandages of your week-old fern.
this time you are making a drawing
for you five year-old niece. you know
that like most children her age, she likes to feel
your portraits as much as she likes
to look at them, so you pull out
a dusty crayon box from the second shelf of your pantry
and watch the bright wax leak onto paper
like coffee stains. a pond, a dog, a red park bench,
an old man,
a few maple leaves. the dog
lays at the old man’s feet, belly-up.
you take a drink of water
and pour the rest onto the plant.
you write the same letter over and over,
cutting out all the parts she already knows
until it only reads:
“life is a constant cycle of drifting into new addictions,”
“the heart nods even when it disagrees.”
you consider writing about how you would sometimes wake
before the moon set and see her there next to you and want to touch
her sleeping eyelids
to change the dream, or how
the sunlight kissed her face in the same way every morning
but never managed to brush away the flecks of night caught in her hair.
you consider writing these things
and decide to abandon them in favor
of a series of ink stains.
there is the heart the light does not reach
and then there is the word for heart,
which the light can only reflect.
you turn on the radio
and start a new page. In the background
the white noise of Cher crooning about old wounds and forgiveness.
“note to self: there is a dead body
waiting in your body
like a ghost. god knows what it knows.”
the plant moves again, sending words up at you
from its softly potted dark.
you stay up the rest of the night
with a warm plate of food
and all the lights turned on, waiting
for another epiphany. your hands
want to move in new ways
but they are tired: dried ink stains
on your fingertips from marking down
the list of typos made by god.
the moon is staring down at you from the open window.
even through the clouds
you can see its body full and round and
sick of love.
framed in the yellowed light,
a final letter begins
“this one is for you”
but then you lay your head down on the table
and fall asleep
so that is also how it ends.
Tell me about the dream where I call to you
from across the water
and you don’t look back. How it was late
but no one could sleep, and the night scattered
from the shattered trees in all directions
when it heard your voice. Tell me
how I was saying your names: names of birds
and names of fire and names of flight; names of souls
colliding in the dark.
Names that are spoken only
once, names wider than oceans,
names as bright as the silver lightning
falling on the far shore. Names I clung to
like the last bits of light
which filter through a closing guillotine.
I cradled your name to my chest like a wounded animal
dying in the frost; like the broken deer
on the broken road
that stumbled into winter’s heart on unsteady feet
and lost itself to the strangeness of the forest.
Beyond the trees, you stepped into the river
to see the reflections of faceless stars
haloed in their shivery blue light. Shadows trembled
in a vague recognition of water. A bird drifted past your feet
and made a noise in the back of its throat
that you had never heard before in a living thing.
Its body glasslike and gleaming amongst the pale rocks;
the last vestiges of sun trapped between its feathers.
I said to you
tell me about the dream again: your name caught in the back of my throat
like grief, like a wish I couldn’t swallow or undo
or hide, like the prayer I was afraid to say
out loud. Your name a song I sing only to myself, in the softest hours of the night,
when nothing else is there to listen.
In this dream your body becomes an altar, raising itself
against the light, which is blinding,
and I do believe this is absolution:
you whispering names against my forehead
and softer voices saying yes, yes, we forgive you,
now go to sleep.
Katy Li is a hobbyist poet who splits her time between Baltimore, Maryland and a suburb of Dallas, Texas, where she lives with her mother, sister, and an extremely talkative cat. She is currently in college hoping to double major in Political Science and Creative Writing, but her plans may be subject to change. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Polyphony H.S., Cargoes, The Adroit Journal, River of Words, The Postscript Journal, Transcendence Magazine, and Alliterati.