Tina Chang

Origin & Ash

Powder rises

from a compact, platters full of peppermints, a bowl of sour pudding.

A cup of milk before me tastes of melted almonds.


It is the story of the eve of my beginning.  Gifts for me:


boxes of poppies, pocket knife, an elaborate necklace

made of ladybugs. 


My skirt rushing north


There is something round and toothless about my dolls.


They have no faith. Their mouths, young muscle to cut me down.

                  Their pupils miniature bruises.


I hear the cries of horses, long faces famished, the night the barn burned,

their sound was the key


that opened human doors.


The day afterward, there was God and ashes everywhere.


Burnt pennies, I loved them, I could not catch them

in their copper rolling.


My mother’s cigarette burns amber in a crystal glass.

I am not there

because I am in bed imagining great infernos.


Ashes skimming my deep lake.


In my story, the night the animals burned,

I kissed the servant with the salty lips.


There was a spectacular explosion, a sound

that severed the nerves, I was kind to that shaking. The horses,

the smell of them, like wet leaves, broken skin.


Laughing against a wall, my hair sweeps the windowsill,


thighs show themselves.


First came my body, my statue’s back, then hair electric, matches falling everywhere. Tucked in my pink canopy, I am plastic, worn cheeks grinning.


I found my little ones hiding from me, crying into their sleeves. They are really

from a breeze, momentary, white.


When we unburied the dolls, red ants were a fantasy

feeding on them, nest of exposed veins,  shrunken salted corpses.


There is mythology planted in my mouth which is like sin.

Keep fires inside yourself.

My mother once said, When you were a baby, I let you swim in a basin of water

until your lungs stopped. Since then, my eyes were open windows,


the year everything fell into them.


The sound of burning is like a country of cicadas hissing endlessly.

Ashes on my open book.


Ashes in mother’s hair. Ashes on my baby brother.

The streets are arid, driven toward fire.


If I hurry, I will dance with my father before the sun sets,

my slippers clicking

on a thin layer of rain.



“Origin & Ash” originally appeared in Ploughshares, Spring 2000, Vol. 26, No. 1 and reprinted in Half-Lit Houses (Four Way Books, 2004).