6AM at the market on Nanjing Road
we watch red herrings unzip like surgery,

lateral lines flossing our toes on tile, a
sheaf of shopkeepers nodding away the heat

as if to tell us that this kind of murder is nothing
more than peeling rice off the collarbones of our

ancestors. You tell a hollow room wo ai ni
because I am too busy trying to unfurl the runes

on your cracker tin label, a baby lapping water
from your elbow, so strapped in the strangeness

of this gold-laced lung that I strip your prayers.
Spiders skim paper bridges, their eyes sewn shut.

My hands grip chopsticks like spineless merchants,
can’t bone a chicken breast the way you do,

brutal and unforgiving on marble. After breakfast
you kiss lily soup from plastic ladles while I

collect the silt from your chin and calcify it
in jade. It was easier to ignore the importance of

red tablecloth back when politics were but a
chalk nub’s exhale matted on bamboo and wet

resolve. The bite of burning incense will never
brine me in this country’s roots. I choke, instead. 

Poetry: Helli Fang
Illustration: Flavia Chen