The Future’s Not Ours to Keep by Larissa Pham | Poetry Foundation

Occidentalism

A man celebrates erstwhile conquests,
his book locked in a silo, still in print.
I scribble, make Sharpie lines, deface
its text like it defaces me. Outside, grain
fields whisper. Marble lions are silent
yet silver-tongued, with excellent teeth.
In this life I have worshipped so many lies.
Then I workshop them, make them better.
An East India Company, an opium trade,
a war, a treaty, a concession, an occupation,
a man parting the veil covering a woman’s
face, his nails prying her lips open. I love
the fragility of a porcelain bowl. How easy
it is, to shatter chinoiserie, like the Han
dynasty urn Ai Weiwei dropped in 1995.
If only recovering the silenced history
is as simple as smashing its container: book,
bowl, celadon spoon. Such objects cross
borders the way our bodies never could.
Instead, we’re left with history, its blonde
dust. That bowl is unbreakable. All its ghosts
still shudder through us like small breaths.
The tome of hegemony lives on, circulates
in our libraries, in our bloodstreams. One day,
a girl like me may come across it on a shelf,
pick it up, read about all the ways her body
is a thing. And I won’t be there to protect
her, to cross the text out and say: go ahead—
rewrite this.
Sally Wen Mao, “Occidentalism” from Oculus. Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, http://www.graywolfpress.org.

 

In Sally Wen Mao’s Oculus, voices lost to empire finally have their say.

Source: The Future’s Not Ours to Keep by Larissa Pham | Poetry Foundation

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