sheng kao

"PEARL (珠)"

I'm coming home. The cold has grown on my skin like a second skin. My heart is a small pearl in my throat. Pearls falling white from my eyes, pearls falling from my mouth like uncooked rice, drop away to roll soundlessly on the floor. I have to make my mouth soft. I have to pretend I can talk without choking. I’m so grateful for white rice. How I put water in rice and it becomes nourishment, a cloud in the mouth or an excuse to chew on cotton. Instead of answers all I can offer is rice. Let me boil the water myself, walk in the steps of that ritual myself, let me mother myself. How I wax and wane like the moon-colored mound in my bowl. How I eat and I transform into milk or water or pearl. How before, my skin was as dry as bone. I have to try to keep my mouth closed, or I’ll bead away in little pearls when I talk.


The topography of my dog's wet
black head. His body bends like grass

crushed under my brother's foot, slick
like a killer whale, rippling

with the pleasure of languishing. I've learned all the ways
that water can exit the body: quietly,

violently. I'm burning
my sweat-shining hands

on this metal bowl. There's nothing like the gleam
of skinned fruit in July. Tell me what I am

by opening me. When I was too small to remember,
I was made entirely of bruises. I was a nebula

in the shape of a girl. There was nothing then
to parse. I think there's mold growing in me

When I die, my blood will stop
making castles of me. When I die and am slit,

what number of animals will they find there, swimming?
And what of my miasma, my sugared mysticism? Here's the proof

for the dark ocean, the velvet of the back of my eyelid.
Here's what every mouth hungers and longs for.

My fingers are sticky with pulp the color of fire.
I've learned that you can take advantage

of water's obedience for salt: to make blood dance
out of a corpse, to evert a stomach gleaming with swallowed creatures.

I anoint a bowl of peas and wait.

Sheng Kao's (she/her/hers) work has previously appeared in L'Éphémère Review, Apogee Journal, OCCULUM, Vagabond City Lit, and Noble / Gas Qtrly. She attended Oberlin College, where she received the Emma Howell Memorial Poetry Prize for her work.