Tina Chang


Li Sau and Li Jie                                                  [Hunan, 1938]



She takes one breast out of her silken undershirt

like a secret, a warm brown egg and places it into his

open mouth. His body is hammocked


in floral cloth, tied to her bosom. August sweats

at the base of her neck. She gives away

her milk to a child she calls shiou an, smallest


night. She wishes he were her own as she crouches

in a field separating rotted stems from dried tea leaves.

I think of unraveling her two long


braids when I do the chores–chasing the crazed

chickens with their throats cut, stringing them by their feet

to the front trees. Bodies dripping


with leaves, the air smells of wild blood everywhere.

Tonight, after she has swept stiff crickets down the back steps,

after I have washed dung from my fingernails with ginger


she will come quietly. We will lie down

on woven straw mats and watch the hanging

branches scrape against the unarmed sky.


She puts her fingers to my lips which smell of

smashed guava and lilac powder.  I eat what she

has brought me: bits of pig knuckle and mushrooms


collapsed in brown sauce. The whole town is strewn

with horses and red doorways and burned fish. 

Past this house, there is a field which is set afire.


The torching of it like a lit city.

Li Sau, the bruised night pours in through all

the shutters of the house and nothing is coming for us.




“Servitude” originally appeared in the Cream City Review, Spring 1997, Vol. 21, No. 2, and reprinted in Half-Lit Houses (Four Way Books, 2004).