What Will Not Keep Us

Khaty Xiong

To Lee, kuv tus niam laus
     Maiv Lig-
The evening is lined in root dust,
     white oleander fortifying
a neighbor’s yard,
             our father’s execution rippling
                  in the water,
          the sun which will never rise
              the same way twice.
     Our flaring livers assume position
once more,
     staging song to bear straight
             over the ashes
     of mother’s lemongrass,
cov taub peb mam haus noj.
     Are we shrapnel again in the morning?
The water now rusty,
     the water rowed twice,
our stomachs silken with milk.
     Of the gardens we ensnare
we meet ourselves
     in the harmony of birds
     beyond the peaches,
catching with due diligence
     the singular leaf ripped
in this scene.
             In the darkening eaves
                   of the canna lilies
             we are the only eyes.
May we hope for better or the moon
     will ask for more.
May we know any better.
     We know already the rice fields
won’t grow tall enough
          to hide our bodies
     when we need to lie down.
             The fields were not meant for us.
Do we understand?
     The alarm is miles from the flowers.

In Memory of Misremembering

Khaty Xiong

Numerical empire, fertile, dimming along the softened sections of your side smile,
surfacing in a bucket of boiling water, spread out on sulfur soaked newspapers.
Remembering the ways in which I dismember you, counting effortlessly on the things
you did and didn’t do. Counting the bowls, the time, the soup I’m not to give you.
Did you think I could forget about the peony that spilled from your waist? The peony
springing wild-tail into the halls of elephants, into the thrones of lyrical monkeys,
the rising third breast intended to nurse the wide-eyed sun.
            Hail the woman only you can handle.
All your blood gone for the next century. O mother, take cover, take cover, take cover!
Descending in reward you land palm first, striking the plate of the earth with your mark
of discipline. Did you think I could forget the iron eggs you greedily ate in the misshapen
land of banana groves? Your laughter turned mist and your speech of return outmatched.
Might I count every flycatcher that has come to court you, your voice folding to the sounds
of the shore, your hands clapping in surprise to dispel the bad joke laid upon you.
            Who could dissuade you?
In the rungs of good weather, in the tombs of our throats, in the linens of our shame.
May you strike again so that our ears feel hard and leathery, so that we can map away the blood
in this brilliant hemisphere. Like the cull ox of your dreams, let me wander my safe hands
and feet into the springs of your eyes. Let me cut down the sick tree. Allow me to round up
the burning dress and throw it over the rice paddies. Tell me where to look. Permit me to see.

Year of the Cardinal’s Song (VII)

Khaty Xiong

Moving along the muted shore Osage oranges
     blistering in the waters
Above starlings staving in plays of elation
One thousand & one breaths shot in all directions
     including the ground
The Scioto River imitating always the main artery
sweeping within me a deliverable autumn
My shadow a tethering of apologies
     in the shape of koj daim di ncauj
Stone blue & ill weathering
From the belly of the waters
     the gathering of a single catfish pouting
with leaves in tow
Back above vultures parading in yards
     & yards of gray sky
            Your drowsy organs
                what’s left of you
            immured in this river
A feed so clandestine the talons come out
     on time to love you & regularly
The means of this season heralded
by trees in ribbed precision
I am sorry brother
     Again I cannot tell if you’re listening


about the writer


Khaty Xiong is a Hmong American poet who hails from Fresno, CA. She is the author of Poor Anima (Apogee Press, 2015) and three poetry chapbooks: Ode to the Far Shore (Platypus Press, 2016), Deer Hour (New Michigan Press, 2014), and Elegies (University of Montana, 2013). She has received a fellowship from MacDowell Colony and a grant from the Ohio Arts Council. Her work has been published in POETRY, theNew York TimesHow Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology, and elsewhere.