Categories
2019 Poetry

Janelle Tan

CLACK

at her funeral, i do not cry. i feed myself curry and a stream
of beers. i entertain. i do not feel heaviness, or not knowing

how to go on, or what to do with my hands. i do not feel
as though my chest has been seared. i am very much still whole.

is there a right way to grieve?

a hundred days later, i lie
on the floor of my parents’ house. the long limbs

of the ceiling fan helicopter above me. my mother
shows me pictures of boat quay from her childhood –

bumboats crawling over each other, mouth to tail.
a boat quay i don’t remember, flattened, sparse, vast

wasteland of trash like buoys. no skyline
yet, just river and blank horizon.

this is my grandmother’s one room –
five mattresses swallowing

each other’s tails, married
to the delivery boy.

like most spirits, she comes home
on the seventh day. we lay

out porridge and pork floss by her spot
at the dining table, where she would glare

down at her red snapper, scolding it
while she picked the spindly bones.

right after the body acquired a waxy sheen i slipped
the bangle from her wrist,

the jade still warm and breathing.
wearing the safety amulet of a woman

so thoroughly protected is a prayer
that it never breaks. the jade’s breath

was a wet ring on embalmed skin,
now her watery voice around my wrist.

on the eighth day, morning sun streaks
through the open window. a black winged

insect unlike the others flitting around
our kitchen perches on the edge

of her plate, looks around as if returning.
the ceiling fan languors its spindly limbs, greets

the insect by ruffling its wings. it leaps
onto its porridge. satisfied with its meal,

it flies out of the kitchen to meet its
identical black partner, waiting

with its arms low to receive her. together,
as if holding hands, they fly into the smog.

i think them a reenactment
of the butterfly lovers, but just bugs.

in one dream, my jade bangle
is a green horseshoe

halved and dangling limp
from my wrist.

as the coffin chugs its way
to the incinerator

my mother whispers – go look for father,
he’ll take care of you.

jade bangle was husband
longer than the delivery boy—

it kept her company from her wrist.
i saved that steadfast god and its clacking

against the dinner table
from incineration.


Janelle Tan was born in Singapore and lives in Brooklyn. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Anomaly, Entropy, Up the Staircase Quarterly, The Boiler, Winter Tangerine, and others. She is the recipient of a 2018 Academy of American Poets Prize, and is currently an MFA candidate at New York University. She serves as an Assistant Web Editor for Washington Square Review and reads for Perugia Press. The only heaven she believes in is a basket of soup dumplings.