Kathleen Ma ~ Four Poems

Don’t sleep on the wormup!

Don’t sleep on the wormup!
You’ll nev­er make it out if you try.
On Long Island we saw a dead eel,
Stomach leak­ing in terror.

It looked like a sausage.
No one ever tells you life is going to be so inspiring.
Run your­self to the creek or miss
the peat fire, big for the rest of your days.

Name obliv­ion in so few strokes.
I’m wait­ing to embrace big slabs of water,
     salt my skin thick.
Take what­ev­er excuse you can
to leave your­self. I wish I knew better
what the deal “is”


Stealing chickens from my mom

I’m steal­ing chick­ens from my mom.
It’s not fair for her to keep them in the shed:
tawny, gin­ger, jump rope, plum cake.

My mom broke wild in the village
as a girl, run­ning her aunts overtime.
She threw a chick­en in the water
to see if it would float, fly or swim.
My mom, ugly as she thought, on the blis­tered bank,
Saw chick­en come to sky.

My grand­ma had no chickens.
Every year she claimed a New Year’s rooster.
Every year the roost­er made its escape.
The hunt through the town!
“I’m not crazy!”
Forget every­thing you’ve just been told.
“It was here. The chick­en was just here.”
I nev­er saw a New Year’s roost­er in my life.

I stole the chick­ens from my mom.
In fifty years
I’ll take them to the sea.
We’ll fol­low port trucks up the coast:
their feath­ers, bleached by sun,
me, for­get­ting my own face,
I will nev­er be alone again.


Fish Poem

I have been car­ry­ing your
dead fish, through and through.
At night I let it rest on my chest,
I touch its ear stones, otoliths.

In the morn­ing I drag it, col­lared, down the street.
I am not get­ting paid enough!
to pour water into the mouth of a dead fish.

It weighs nothing
so I think it will be worth it in the end.

Still I am incon­solable at the docks,
with noth­ing to re-animate,
My fin­ger­nails digging
under the flash-smooth scales,

I pry out your stomach,
I put it in my mouth.



I have done a lot! Or, a little.
Either way I’m going to Porky’s for dinner.
They bring every­one a pig, one entire pig.
You carve it your­self, snout to tail.
I know my own lig­a­ments. I wear them on the outside.
I want to get so busy I can’t breathe,
Carve the pig, unsheathe the spine,
taste the veins clean.
At the end of the night I walk out
poor and pure.


Kathleen Ma is from a north­east­ern sub­urb of Beijing.