Three Poems by June Daowen Lei



Emergent Instrument 

Obviously, the word is state. As in 

  of emergency 

yet a body continues to rattle 

onto the train and into the desk chair
 
  and so on. So on 

panic rises in language, within words 

large as deluge, surge, or incurable 

  hypochondria. 

I dream I am a little subway rat 

with full immunity, patch tail spending 

  all my days running 

up the live rail. Endive-shaped heart-pink nose. 

Pile of bile. Iotas of loose light float 

  through the iron grates 

so they can see our shining, lucid state: 

rats on the track staring at the people 

  on the platform who 

stare back. Someone tries to speak, but they are 

not the instrument. It is the rat who 

  states, you are
  vermin, 

hosting viruses and evolving them. 

In dream I make appointments that never 

  happen: the lost time 

makes up lost places, palatial estates 

the tipping point where language goes molten 

  its liquid state sears 

the first layer off. When I live there, 

I see everything in micro: small fissures 

  threatening the whole 

state of being. I smell it too, moving, 

decomposing and so on. It smells like 

  the future, ripe and fragrant.


Yes Here I Am 

Listening to the english sparrow sing the
jaunt tune of the ice cream truck passing
through this summer like a phantom of past
summers, and yes, I know now that I spent 

months ignoring the song of a bird
yearning for its pastoral heartland; its
alkaline loneliness answering an
unintended call by impulse, torrent 

of longing that lasts for the house sparrow:
brought to america via Brooklyn, 1851 who
yes, sought the comfort of a cupped hand
only to land as an uneasy pest 

after an undesired voyage to
an unfamiliar country. Fervor of
displacement familiar to 
my mother, who too lived in that nest
 
of Brooklyn, in the house with bats in the
attic and a bathtub in the kitchen, who went
without resentment, not knowing the
colonized went on to colonize 

to rove & raid and they made children so now,
here we are with violence fossilizing our
bones into sedimentary rock: anaerobic, rich
with carbon, finite. 


National Geographic 

Sitting by the mill
on an idle river
spinning textiles
spilling water 

the lush reds of an
afgani dress in panic:
darning a cold white
sheet in the summer. 

Oh my unchanged body
with open mouth choked
on the saffron air in the
soft light 

I hold my face up to the
edge, drink the copper
water turning green. I am
feeling like the sun,

now collapsing time,
rust of the gold night
descending. I can
not see now 

beyond the embankment.
I cannot breathe through
the lurid distance
between the place 

and the photograph. The
fabric held tight against
the weaving hand, patina
of silence 

It was so bright in color you
could have been there.
Stood by them. You could
have been them.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

About the author

June Daowen Lei is an art worker, a poet, and a lifelong New Yorker.

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