Paper Tiger Daughters

Turn it back to Year Zero –
My mother shuts her eyes;
Says her rice fell with her foot
And her heart stretched south
Like a reed upon reeds.

She tells me she must’ve been six,
Maybe ten – filthy foot; ten
Hundred grains afloat, but hey,
Today the floodplain fish will eat.
A tin a day, no more

Or less, you see, the less you see –
Struck, her matchstick pupils saw
What the men who weren’t looking saw:
Baby watermelon torn from tendrils
No, you cannot ask for more.

They strapped the tendril-bodied thief
To a stake while the rest of the children stared
Down empty tins. Mouths aren’t juicers and
Melons don’t fit but my mother saw them

Squeeze until the child shook slack-jawed,
Ground straight to the core.

Two zero zero zero:
Brother, disavowed son;
I saw father crack a modem
Over brother’s bloodied brains and I heard
A small voice yell, Please, somebody

Dial zero zero zero –
But nobody came and your lips
Unspooled. Wound a web between your ribs.
I sat until my hands fell from Daisy’s tiny ears
Then I shook, shook, shook slack-jawed for years.

And how I wish I were powerless, but mother – please,
I am not; you know, father never saw the mummified tongue, But the inert thing would twitch and curl toward the sun.
I smothered it with shadow, kept it tame beneath my feet,
But it wormed until it danced, broiled barefaced in the heat.

You laid out our futures like fossils; a full-blown
Cardiac archaeologist. I dug, too –
For twenty-two Decembers; uncovered
Four chambers crusted with the belief
That we were paper tiger daughters. Here now –

Mother, take the trowel, I don’t know if you’ll find
That your chambers look a little like mine.