Tina Chang


                                                                          [Hunan, 1943]


So little wind to go around.

The whole family sleeps on bamboo mats.

Their eyelids yield,

flicker shut like broken light bulbs.


Mosquitoes burn a hole

in your skin to take blood.

There are no clocks to tell the time.

And tell me the part that I hope is not true:


How your brother reaches toward you

as he would for bread because the supper

is not enough. 

You are beautiful.


You are becoming a round thing

and he yearns to touch your belly. He reaches

to enter you. From half sleep

you can not decipher copper pots from his face.


You want to run or sound out,

but instead, you count the heads of your younger

brothers and sisters and count

their breathing, fingers tapping your throat.


And you thought it would not

have happened had there been more

food, had the night been a cool plate

of something else to offer.


Mother, I will be born in fifteen years.

And after that I will hear

the voices of my family recounting

our history. We come from a dynasty


of  vanity and ruin, says one uncle.

We are here like fig trees, to tend

to our own solitude, says another.

I have stopped listening. 




“Hearsay” was originally published in Tamaqua, Winter 1997, Vol. 6, Issue 2, and reprinted in Half-Lit Houses (Four Way Books, 2004).