She was born in Hefei but only wanted to watch American movies that took place on coasts where it snowed. She’d never seen snow and I’d never either, but we invented for each other its taste: I said sweat and she said sunlight. I said she was wrong, that snow was just a kind of dandruff, something to brush off our shoulders in the morning. We were literal with each other. I love you so wide, she said, and slipped me her fingers, my legs lended over her shoulders. I love you so lean, I said, when we couldn’t afford our appetites. At fourteen we were both in factories, hers for skirts and mine for shirts. We matched in ways we’d rather not, like how her father died in an electric scooter accident, struck by a minivan full of mushrooms, and how mine died eating a poisonous mushroom on purpose because he’d read about it in the newspaper, a listicle about common mistakes made by children, and he believed reports that it had been painless. It was determined later, though I didn’t know how, that he vomited until his lungs collapsed. We both believed we would not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. She didn’t ride anything with two wheels and I did not eat anything I touched. Instead she fed me, powdered my mouth with instant noodle packets, fitted my teeth with slices of peach. I only ate what she gave me. Every swallow a trust exercise. She said she used to believe Americans only wore jeans. At the factory, she made denim skirts and came home with fists strangled blue. One time she brought me a zipper with nothing attached to it, a zipper as long as my arm. She fed it to me, unfurled it to the bottom of my belly. I swallowed its whole cold length, waiting for something to unzip inside me. Wondered if this was the waiting my father did. He used to grow tomatoes in an urn full of soil, teaching me when they were ripe, just before their skins sauntered off, watered into waltzing. At night, she repeats the lines of American movies. Hands up. I love you. Drop your gun and kick it to me. She tells me again she’s getting in trouble for dropping buttons on the factory floor, fistfuls for fun. She likes the sound they make, like rain. We wonder if snow clatters when it lands, if it weighs anything in the palm, if it falls like a flock of birds when they’re shot down, talons snagging on the sky, a seam everywhere I see. Probably not, I say, and but she says it does, it does. We stand outside and do not touch. We wait for a snow of mushrooms or beads of light or spilled buttons. For something to make a sound of us.
K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her debut novel BESTIARY is forthcoming from One World / Random House on September 29, 2020. Her poems have been anthologized in Ink Knows No Borders, Best New Poets, Bettering American Poetry, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. More of her work can be found at kmingchang.com.