Shirley Lim





The Ex-lover

“People could never talk coherently about ex-lovers, not for fifty years. . . .”
            — Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (143)

One day you start walking away without
realizing that’s what you’re doing. Even
as you say I love you and beg for one
more smile, you have gone down the road
and out of sight. He thinks he’s the one
you live for, but it’s months since you’ve left.
The hot steamy wind in your mouth you
swallow with your goodbye tastes like life
itself—bright, hopeful, scary life you
run toward, better than love and its
miserliness.
               Or so she thinks, shrink-wrapping
the present in its past, the man in paper,
carrying him like a paperback on the shuttle
to another airport, another meeting.

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Going East, 1848-1948

California is an old place for Chinese.
In 1848 Guangdong fathers
Were already walking, and walking away
From young women’s beds and mothers’ kitchens
Toward the Eastern rollers. Endless motion
Glittering like silver pieces and demons.
The cutting smell of bilge and their own piss.
Rice boiled any old how. Salted black beans
For sixty days of slurping ocean,
Before land fall in San Francisco, January,
Having left after October harvest.
No one had told them snow would cover
The Sierras where they’d look for gold ore,
That it would take wars and a century
For Guangdong fathers to become American.

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Disappointment of 2 O’Clock

The class is clanking
With cacophonous lines.
None is biting with zest
Or ringing with bright notes
Or scooting on scented
Toe shoes, or murmuring
Amorous musk, or hollering
Holy hymns and whirling
Dervishly to Diana
And Mercury. No one
Writes about demons and deep
Scary secrets or tear
Entrails, foretelling futures.
Only a stray poem
Whispers, sometimes,
A promise, in words
Approaching timorously,
Bearing heraldic names.

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Eating Fruit in California

That hard green pear, one of a dozen
Snagged in the red mesh sack, now has
A pale blotch on one cheek.
Tenderly I shave it off, pare
Down to clean flesh and juice.
Eat it. Soon the others will be thrown
Into the trash, too ripe, too many.
Like the onions, round as coconuts,
Grown pungent legs; tubers hairy
And spotty; and slim yellow bananas,
Blown brown-soggy overnight.

Papayas were dollars a pound,
But why buy one, why two? How many
Would be too many? I teeter
On a decision, reach for the answer.
So it goes. Cruciferous cabbages
Are not eternal, although eternal plenty’s
Promised here. What is as lovely
As lemons heaped in a bowl, sunlight
Imprinted on skin? A miracle of loaves
And lemons at my hand turns daily.
Still, I do not know how to shop
For two, for one, cannot learn the lesson
Of plenty. Is beauty one or bounty?
Will these fruits, shades of gold and glop,
On the plate, stay ideal and sound?

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