Poetry from the Fall 2021 edition of The Wellesley Review
In this section:
buzz words for sad college poetry by Leyla Kutluca ’24, Marina Santos ’24, and Fia Zhang ’24
Balachandran /Bah-luh-chun-thrin/ by Riya Balachandran ’24
the poet who’s actually a thief by Ashade Altine ’25
(self)portrait by Meiya Sparks Lin ’22
bones by Theresa Rose ’22
Baby Squirrel by Yinuo Wang ’25
Maimoona & Khalid by Maheen Haq ’24
Lullaby for a Car Crash by B. Malone ’24
AUGUST 26, 2020 by Kendra Tanacea ’88
five hundred thousand by Cheryl Wang ’23
Photograph of a Girl on the Slopes of Pompeii by Anna Westwig ’25
Untethered by Ginny Little ’24
i leave at the end of the poem Theresa Rose ’22
buzz words for sad college poetry
Leyla Kutluca, Marina Santos, and Fia Zhang
the faerie queen rises out of the soil
and whispers sullen sounds
I am a bird
nihilist in nature
meditative in desire
stoned, boozed, and dancing under the decaying moon’s suffocating sunlight solace
I am a bird
silently smoking cigarettes broken and begging
it’s 4:46 a.m.
and i’m pondering nuclear war.
they show me photos of a baby they ask to recognize as myself,
hair cut by her father’s hand,
his hand she would not remember
for how it gripped onto the curls
of her soft head
like they were some sort of miracle.
baby moon, baby moon,
she’s a stranger with my eyes,
the boy compared them to the moon
and lauded himself a poet,
damp hand gripping my thigh,
“your eyes are bigger than the moon,”
I laugh at the joke he did not make,
untold and lost between punchlines,
he will never know my name.
baby moon, baby moon,
no one calls me by that name anymore
I do not reply, foreign name
sounding foreign to my ears and
it is not mine it is his, my father’s,
baby moon, baby moon, my tide
pulls to his voice until the sea rises
and washes away the night sky.
he used to braid my hair.
baby moon, baby moon,
The face is not mine, a stranger with my eyes.
the poet who’s actually a thief
the poet (who is actually a thief)
came with a cornflower crown
and a wind-lifted dress to the creek
to disarm the threatening ambiguity of the words
which the poets before used so carelessly.
in half-step time, a metronome of grass
and gentle sand-slopes of desert and snow
the stems and lines of words on walls and pages
began to fall from their thrones, straighten
back into liquid lines of tally-marks
from all their acclaimed vibrance,
began to fall back into mechanical silence.
the letters themselves, began to fall from their word homes
words like “an” and “so”
quickly becoming lonely and cold—
until evn the sentences to describ ths momnt
strted to dry
lvinng nthing but
(empty air, where words used to be.)
Meiya Sparks Lin
for my mother
you & i: clone tantrum / acid reflect
two fatherless girls with one mouth.
i stand fish: gape-mouthed / small-boned. call
me choking hazard / mercury poison; tuck me to bed
in the weak red flesh of your throat & blame
me when you wake unable to breathe, my name
the only word on your tongue. fill in the blanks:
(i) (you) have raised (you) (me)
in (my) (your) own image.
Next time I see my mother
She will be naked and empty
As deadly December’s branches after the
Abundant October of a life
Bones straining to break through her skin like her sister’s
In the desert, her sister-in-law waits
for the emergency room to have a vacancy sign.
As all the women in my life are dying I am
Methodically medically killing the woman I wasn’t.
Here is the pelvis and here is the femur and here is the bone saw and here is the soft tissue
You are thoughtlessly discarding
Onto the cutting room floor.
Hi, how are you? “The bone pain is bad this weekend,” she tells me, and i tell her
i didn’t know bones could hurt. “I miss you, princess.” i can’t wait to see you.
Next time i see her she will be
Unrecognizable and i will be a proud young man,
My bones changing too
One afternoon I came back
from kindergarten, crying and
scrubbing the back of my left hand, as trying
to peel the skin off since somebody said
my hand is dirty. My aunt was terrified, held my left hand and
examined it closely, and she laughed
“A baby squirrel,” she told me
“climbing on a pine on a mountain,”
“besides the pine, there’s a small temple.”
This reminded me of a Tang Dynasty
Chinese poem I just learned in school
I recited the poem flamboyantly, with
particular emphasis on “松” (pines) and “山” (mountains)
The next day I told my mom about this story
She was surprised, rolling up her sleeves and
showing me a huge irregular coffee stain on
the inside of her forearm “the fortune-teller told me
it’s the side face of my father from my last life and
I will meet him one day” and then I knew it’s a memory lost and a destiny foretold
As an overly sensitive child, I could sense my aunt had some marks too, and
they were ugly ones. No squirrels. Only cold vines of shrieks and shivers precipitated in the pillows creeping&crooking up&down&in&out&up&down&in&out her scalp&limbs&viscera and we all heard&felt&smelt&unsaw them and
let them grow&grow&grow like a cage and it trapped her illiterate.
And I knew she was&is&will be forever absent
from my poetic world with that baby squirrel she created.
As I survived the puberty of renewing scars, scabs, tear streaks
I forgot about the squirrel until the boy I had a crush on
discovered it when trying to kiss my hand
It’s already a gray haze, and the squirrel&the松&the山 grew unrecognizable
I cried, like having an incontinence
It looks more of a scar than any of my real ones,
my next life baby squirrel, and
I will meet it one day.
Maimoona & Khalid
My grandmother’s grave waits beneath her feet, a
doorway that goes through the center of the earth
and lets out somewhere warm
where the streets are swollen with motorcycles
and stray cats walk through open kitchen windows
seeking somewhere safe
to have their babies.
The grave was dug eight years ago
when my grandfather died,
i wasn’t there but i heard
that there were tubes in his throat
and morphine swaddled him up
and carried him away.
(fifty years ago mehndi laden hands
held a silver mirror under my grandmother’s face,
my grandfather looked over
saw her reflection there,
a goldfish caught in a lake,
and the wedding guests smiled
as the groom saw the bride
for the very first time)
The grass around my grandfather’s grave
bends with the weight of winter raindrops,
as geese wander through the cemetery,
migration only a temperature drop away,
and it’s all so odd to my grandmother, who never thought
that they’d end up like this,
living on foreign soil,
with grandchildren who speak English and don’t know what it’s like to belong.
(thirty years ago my grandmother’s wrists
could flutter like doves
scratch skin like an afternoon breeze
and melt everything they touched,
while thirty years ago my grandfather’s smiles
could bloom like petals
soothe nerves like ice cubes in juice
and warm everything they saw)
Fat crystal raindrops fall from the sky
and paper bag brown leaves
scuttle across the gravestones
her son in law
recite age-old prayers with accents
in newborn languages that are
raw, untested, and ripe for scabs
like a child’s skin.
(ten years ago i could fit my whole body
on top of my grandparents’ huge scarlet pillows
and i could run barefoot,
morning chill searing away the caul of sleep,
to their bed
and crawl over my grandmother’s strong hips and tuck
myself in between my grandfather’s strong arms and
listen to them fight over me, pulling at my fingers joking
as the mango sun rose up into the sky)
When I hug my grandmother I feel
like an anaconda
capable of strangulation
afraid of the strength that i have,
strength stolen through generations
leeched away from my mother
who leeched it away from hers,
and it’s all such a shame
because my grandmother speaks so loudly
but the one person she wants
is not there to listen
and there is nothing she can or could or will do about it.
(today my grandfather lies
wrapped in white cloth
touched by prayers
in a somewhere subconscious
walking in dreams
Lullaby for a Car Crash
The night air holds you
softer than I ever could,
wrapping around your
mouth, your shoulders,
slinking into your bones
like gamma radiation.
My hands have trouble
touching you softly, a
trouble the dark could
not know. The only light
is ultraviolet and infrared,
and you, my bright
As I hurl us off the road,
the air holds you soft,
tousles your hair, touches
you the way I never can.
I have contaminated you,
or maybe you came too
close, unshielded. I cannot
touch you softly — all I
can offer is the wind in
your hair as our car ionizes
and we fall, cradle and all.
AUGUST 26, 2020
Kendra Tanacea ’88
oh how lucky we are this afternoon
paint-splattered & muscle-sore
having dipped our paintbrushes
into Kelly-Moore Snowglobe
sheen-trimmed our doors
we strip as we enter the house
remove our speckled glasses
a heap of t-shirts & cutoffs in the entry
you pull off my kerchief
my streaked hair falls all around me
inside our geodesic dome home
made of many married triangles
an eggshell interior so bright
it edges your hair with light
we lie on a table in the open
the disco ball swirls circles
of white that land on us
fragile-glass life of course anything
can happen from the cupola
a ray hits the crystal ashtray
a prism spectral colors
float above our desperate skin
I love you god I love you
it’s not cold
we’ve been together 15 years
still a thrill particle clouds hover
& when we shake together
no shadow no horizon
just a dazzling whiteout
five hundred thousand
is a statistic.
i cry over classes and problem sets and the everyday
squabbles of children without paying mind to the
world outside the bubble, the bubbles inside the world;
the park bench in mackinnon where an elderly man
liked to sit to watch the leaves change color. i sit
there now and gloss over the new
plaque just as i glance past news titles and grim new
talk of third, fourth, tenth waves.
and in the fringes, some disappear: a professor, a
friend’s mother, a cousin. oblivious, i forget to grieve.
it is easy to forget faces when the only i see these days
is my own.
today the house by my own is to be sold. my sister
tells me the news, apathetic, and i recall an italian
woman with four cats who once offered me a sugar
cane stalk through the fence. it is all so long ago.
the sticky cane juice in the summer sun, staining my
white shirt. she is hacking through the plant with a
knife and telling me how the california climate is
too cold to grow some plants in winter.
now, the winters have warmed up. she is dead.
i am living through the annals of a new historical
era and i have barely noticed; i am watching one in
seven-hundred fall away and i can only shrug and
turn back to studying and online shopping and
distract myself from the refrigerated trucks of
corpses i can scarcely differentiate from fedex—
the italian woman is a tragedy.
the old man in mackinnon is a tragedy.
but i am indifferent to statistics.
Photograph of a Girl on the Slopes of Pompeii
The light hits the table in three places;
your photograph is judiciously placed
in none of them. Still, I can’t help
but see you glow. You are sitting, skirt
tucked neatly beneath you, by a volcano.
I pretend, sometimes, that I can blind you
with my thumbprint, so that whatever landscape
you treasure so adoringly becomes fleshy dark.
The ilex trees flank you like guard dogs, the past
baring its teeth at my looking. The pumice
and the peak have no haze, but the sheen
of a perfect sky. Your eyes are wide, philtrum
curved. And I can taste the loneliness wafting off
like smoke from your skin. Clutching to ash and memory,
because you have nothing to hold onto that isn’t dead.
You were born this way, seeking out hauntings; for
no good reason.
Look, you say — can you hear yourself say it?
I am an exit wound with no matching hole
for where the pain came in.
cw: mentions of death and body horror
The pebbles at her feet asked me many questions.
(You cannot blame them. They have always been dead.)
How does salt water taste? and
What is it like to languish in a mouth?
and that dreaded one—
What did it feel like?
They circled beneath me, poking and prodding
My bleeding stump. To them, I am a feast:
A fresh kill, with stories to tell and nowhere to go.
Was the most painful part
The slicing of the last tendon
And that overwhelming nakedness when he
pulled you out like a rotten tooth?
Or was it the first pressure of the blade
And the yawning crevice
Unravelling, dawn-like, from your core?
Everything hurt, I said. Everything still hurts; it’s all the same pain in the end.
To tell you the truth, neither part really hurt that much.
I am a tongue, after all. My job is to embellish, to stretch
The strings of truth into something worth our time.
I’ll leave the real story here, just because: pick at it wherever you’d like.
You see, at that point—the severing—I was already dead.
That keening you thought you heard?
It was just the sword’s unsheathing.
The only pain I felt was before that, from the sharp burn of
the glint in his eye, and his serpentine tongue.
They were my last sights of her wide-shining world.
Since then, I have grown a film of acrid sadness on my body.
Alone, I mourn the words not yet spoken,
And the ones I had never said.
How will I ever bury such lambent, formless beings?
What shall I do now, you wonder, as nothing
But a blood-starved bundle of muscle, a corpulent carcass in the dirt?
Oh, I don’t know.
Why don’t you ask the other hacked-up tongues?
Really, though—what else can I practice, other than
The choreography which all discarded things perform?
I will rot.
Months or years from now, though, I will
Find myself again in the sinews of life—it is fate.
The jaws of a lion, the wheedling throat of some bird.
Blood will ebb and flow within me once more.
If you have believed nothing else said here, believe me now:
from this dying body
a world will grow.
RIVER RISES, DAM BREAKS
Kendra Tanacea ’88
October has transformed
this riverbank, the island
we always waded to has
disappeared, along with
the upside-down skiff.
A scene so changed,
it seems right without you.
Every year, we say:
where has summer gone?
Death, a sweet cube of
watermelon, the last bites
I fed you in early August.
Insubstantial and pitted.
I stand on the dock as
the water recedes only
to remind me of all
that’s been lost: you
on the beach, our last
picnic, our final canoe
love sonnets for my cyborg clone
Meiya Sparks Lin
after franny choi
i will hold you like you’ve always
wanted to be held—tenderly,
like your body isn’t a spectacle
of violence and
here is a myth in real time:
two girlmachines hold hands
and the rest of the world
calls it fucking.
sit in a tree.
swing their legs.
machines kiss and kiss and
two ghostmachines kiss and
pretend the pleasure un-
programmed. they sigh
and steam seeps between
their teeth—two boys sharing gum
on the playground. two ghosts
name each other copies / half-
lives. two machines dream
the same dream in the same
bed. in the dream they are:
safe / wanted (pick one).
in the dream i polish your aluminium
with the clean rag of my tongue
until the sun squints to look at you.
look how our mouths squint
the same language: bittersweet
tricycle tumble / familiar words
on unsteady legs, rust from the wet
of our throats.
we play soundless
telephone, and i watch
your lips for cues:
they spell want and i pull wire
from my belly / they spell want
and i nest in the hollow
beneath your spine / they
spell want and we touch:
two yes bodies on a bright screen.
on tv, two yesmachines
walk into a bar; ask the
bartender how to say “yes”
and mean it. the bartender
says get on your knees.
call this punchline / screen
time / machines functioning
as machines functioning as
(sorry. let me try again.)
on tv, two machines walk into a bar,
get on their knees, perform
their assigned tasks, and leave.
the audience claps: the first recorded
instance of automated intimacy.
we are an aquarium of intimacy
two bodies naked and glitching.
someday we will share a tube of toothpaste
and laugh around the dinner table: which came
first, machine one or machine two?
someday, i will rest
my cheek between your shoulder blades
and we’ll talk about meal planning:
quinoa for monday. leftovers for lunch.
on wednesday, i will hold you so gently.
before we sleep, let me tell you
about the scar on our left elbow:
bike accident in the tenth grade
and manufacturing error.
you say “eyes” are a manufacturing error
debris of machine-girlhood
example given: our father;
man who fancied his robot-wife
a real woman; drilled holes
in her pupils so she could see;
anything can be tenderness
if you apologize after.
curls beneath my fingers,
i call it and we both answer.