Karen An-hwei Lee: Three Poems
DEAR MILLENNIUM, INSIDE A HUMMINGBIRD IS GOD
On a calyx of bougainvillea, a gill of rain on ranunculus,
lamp-colored resin in fire hills of whitebark,
quark as a Falkland name for a black-crowned night heron,
quarks flavoring a quantum universe,
vision of agua vitae in the Mojave, shinbones, grief, or salterios --
only beetle-drilled air rushing the inner ear,
custodian of vertigo. No men coughed ashore, no prophets
swallowed in the flesh, no one else --
PRAYER ON A MILLENNIAL CLIFF OF ASH-SPUN GLORY IN LOS ANGELES
Flush of rose-colored ash in the San Fernando valley
poised on slaked mortar
where the horizontal smog, pillowing out west by freeway,
yields a query: On resurrection day, who will arise
on this dazzling terrazzo walk of fame?
Souls of onyx asphalt? Shall the tawdry, zircon grit of aging glamor
ascend the fabliaux of gang violence,
beyond the chrysoprase zone of the ocean, indigo
mica-flecked endgame -- on this side of the Pacific Rim
of brushfires, short-lived
sapphire Australian eucalyptus
running out of flame. Burnished loquats. Century agave. Echeveria
sage rosettes. Salvation
on the side of a chaparral hill in Los Angeles,
forty stories high. Jade-colored car lights in the appetites
of generations moaning in a millennial desert --
mirages of cucumber, quail, and flesh pots --
kisses the glory-cleft, exposed
zylonite rock of ages at twilight, a darkening glass hour
of the city’s millennial angels.
TEN JOURNAL FRAGMENTS COMPOSED DURING THE SAN JACINTO EARTHQUAKE ADVISORY
On the third day of the earthquake advisory, I wake to a radio announcement --
not a heat-wave caution, rather,
one percent chance of a 7.0 earthquake.
San Jacinto. A swarm of earthquakes on the Brawley seismic zone by the Salton Sea.
Why is it called a swarm, not aftershocks? Killer bees, crickets, monarchs, and hornets all swarm.
The San Andreas gets more media coverage than the San Jacinto:
the latter, a reduced abyss of jagged, strike-slip ambition.
Over the Salton Sea, an autumn supermoon -- the hue of kumquat marmalade -- obliterates all traces
of millennial narcissism with a sweet vengeance.
Later at night, the moon looks like an apocryphal magnolia: Everybody, close your books and look up.
Jesus is flying out of clouds of incense-dusk.
A shining container of mortality washed ashore from toxic excess, the moon
is a thousand liquid wax bowls of rotting jasmine, of disgraced fish-blossoms.
Flash-forward to dreams arising from a quarter cruse of almond oil fingerprinted on my temples:
a juvenile delinquent’s heart fibrillates
in a red-light pawn shop of rough diamonds and rusting guns:
his uncle, a refugee, falls in love on a minefield.
Seismophobia is the fear of earthquakes. Some will fly up to the holy hills of the Pacific Northwest
while others drive past Indio to the shimmering faux lagoons of Vegas.
Do not light any candles for a vigil.
Call all my loved ones, say their names.
Yes, this is all a soul can do.
While thousands of gleaming saltwater tilapia wash ashore, I hold still as a glass decanter of cologne --
flaming discotheque violet in a bee’s eye,
a tint sharp as venom’s focused sting.
Hold on when the shaking starts, kneel down like an acolyte,
then whisper your prayers in any tongue you wish.
Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. Lee also wrote two chapbooks, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe 2002) and What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press 2014). Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. Lee’s work appears in literary journals such as The American Poet, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, IMAGE: Art, Faith, Mystery, Iowa Review, and Columbia Poetry Review and was recognized by the Prairie Schooner/ Glenna Luschei Award. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle. Currently, she lives in San Diego and serves in the university administration at Point Loma Nazarene University.