POETRY June 2, 2023

The First Time I Thought My Father Could Kill Me

After 李绅’s 悯农二首

There was a heatwave making landfall
in Changsha. At his great uncle’s farm
where we skipped stones like sorrows
flung across empty paddy fields, sank
our clean feet into the thick clay
of the canal, & joked about skinning cattle
to save them from summer. Our sweat
beading into rice like seeds into soil, dusk
piercing slumber. The poem we were
made to remember, of the farmer
who did not survive the harvest, now
sowing nations into our mouths. Here
at the table, I watch him feed the meat-
mouth dogs his chicken bones. I cannot
stop thinking of his hands, how they closed
over belts, how he softens them
now, stroking a muzzle glinting sharp
with teeth. After each meal, I sit with him
as he washes a sputtering carp, scrubbing
off scales & flesh until only a branch
of ribs remain, listening to his mother tell every lie
he was once struck for. Oh, I think, this is how
I’ll go.
Her pride reared by our silence, famine
forgiven by the seasons. A child, terror-stricken
& fleeing into fatherhood. My executioner, a loving
father silvered by rage, a root out of my reach.

Mimi Yang currently resides in Shanghai, but she has lived in Boston and Montreal. Her work has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and by the Poetry Society and appears or is forthcoming in The Margins, Palette Poetry, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere.