Poetry: Two Poems by Emma Miao

Geography of Mothers 

          Mount Vernon, Washington
                    June’s first day out, 1998

Good things happen in cursed towns, like Safeway 
          & road cracks, where the marigolds sprout like weeds. 
Thirty years you’ve seen, crimes 
          splashed every May, spooling names 
against foamed walls, wet confessions of matricide.
          Confessions of a small town, you say,
standing under the arched doorway of Tulip Town
          which looms like a conviction, like a murder 
of crows hanging above my head, and I can feel their wings 
          over the bulbs, lining the rows, husks heavy, 
teething petals, whistling in the black breeze. 
          My danger instinct has rusted. I forget 
how you ignored the letters, or held the baby
          like a knife long before the sirens arrived. 

Today, you pause beside a butterscotch 
          tulip, bends down, fingertips skating into 
the anther, expanding the jewel
          until the inverted petals spring, 
dangling outwards. A small violence. 
          We are most vulnerable when unsuspecting,
blinking blurred lenses of trust.
          Fingertips. It’s always fingertips on Mother’s Day:
palms, letters, bouquets, read once and
          thrown into the trash—be careful around her, 
because those we love hurt us most in the end.
          Mama, I bought the farm for you. 
There’s a tulip for every day I missed you. 
          One; August in Mount Vernon, 

two; chemo, three; my ruined dance recital, 
          because I only care to remember the mundane things.
It’s fitting how these tulips wilt: together but apart,
          every row, ticking patiently, as expected. You & I, 
strolling through the patchy aisle with one exitway,
          life, with one exitway, & I think about prisons:
the rotten bag for bruised tulips that won’t 
          sell, never touching a ribbon, never fully blooming
into a mother’s hand, never good enough, but it’s actually 
          the inverse. Cursed things happen in good towns, 
the town melting into the tulips, into your eyes, 
          fading around me. Your smiling mouth
nudging closer, soft then sharp, 
          your teeth—

Self-Portrait in a Houseparty Bathroom

My skin is a mosaic 
of rashes, infecting this city.
I press against the wood, 
candles globbing against the bathtub
walls, mannequins foaming 
at their smiling mouths. Buzzing 
lights, ripe & puckered. My reflection 
lives in syringes, speeds down freeways. 
Fermented lavender bites my nose. 
I pattern. I pustule. The sink whispers 
a thousand sirens. Pressing into 
the flimsy door, the party howls on. 
The endless talk. Laughing 
that sounds like yelling, 
yelling that sounds like
I’m better off in here

About Emma Miao

Emma Miao is a Chinese-Canadian poet from Vancouver, BC. Her poems appear in Cosmonauts Avenue, Atlanta Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and The Emerson Review. She is a commended Foyle Young Poet and an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. Find her at emmamiao.weebly.com.