Tina Chang

Letter to a Stranger

After Thomas James
Dear Father,
I drifted on the bouquet of your red tongue
for two years. It was a kingdom, the stadium
of your face. I took sweets from a sealed jar
when mother wasn’t looking. I grew up on the back steps of St. Mary’s
where I learned to scream at kitten boys that didn’t do
what I said. We took the body and the blood in time. It is possible
to be divine in one afternoon.
A girl kneels on pebbles to feel the roughness that will change her destiny.
When you died, Vincent started his fascination with glass:
its world of definites. Cut or uncut. Severed or whole. It is the year 2000
and all our failures are tangible. Vincent is 30 and carries a pistol
wrapped in a powder-blue handkerchief. He will use it
on the clocks, the countenance of apples, the delicate house
of some girl’s throat still dripping with wine.
Let me sleep now, in the shelter, in the halt. Stop.
At your burial, I dropped carnations into the big earth. Mother pulled
me along by the sleeve. Now there is the sound of great thunder
as the brothers come running through the house, their boots cracking
the surface of things, fuck you’s dropping from their fat lips.
One organ persists alone. Three notes repeating and repeating.
I am governed by terror, sleeplessness, nostalgia.
Mother of God helps me out with my daily chores. I capture heat
in a rusted pot, smooth the bed sheets with a hammer, take up the hours
with my veined hands. Father, there are magnificent shadows
engraving themselves onto the dinner table. I keep thinking
that you are telling me to go. Let me sleep
and dream of the falling architecture of this house, transform it
into an imitation of heaven. My eyes are closed, two razors.
Dear Father, What kind of music is coming from me? What kind?

Tina Chang
Letter to a Stranger first appeared in Callaloo, Summer 1997, Vol. 20., No. 3, and reprinted in Half-Lit Houses (Four Way Books, 2004).
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Tina Chang
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse