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).