There was no one coming
so she uncovered her head.
A long time ago,
she was on a bus to Saigon.
Her hair was falling out,
her mother's rings sliding
from her fingers. No one
would admit what was wrong,
what she had done.
They sent her to her uncle,
a pharmacist. They thought
he could make her well.
They could not see how she tried
to love her bones without flesh,
how her body was an arrow
spinning through rain.
How when she said tôi mạnh,
she meant forgive me.
Years later, she erases
her name from mine.
Asks if I remembered to pinch
my nose that morning,
as if I could exile her
from my face.
She says, you have big eyes,
like your daddy.
That makes you beautiful.
She tells me my skin is sore
because I have too much heat inside.
We try cucumber, green tea,
Chinese herbs, scrubbing and scrubbing.
She remembers how she once wanted
to set fire to her breasts and stomach,
but had no faith in her hands.
How she tied her wrists to the sea,
carved strips from her legs and ribs.
Each night, I leave a kiss on her eyelids,
begin to stitch her skin over mine.
To cast my mouth to the sea
and not ask why this is necessary.
To cup this sound in my throat,
like a name that isn't mine.
To recite my first body
like a promise on its knees.
To sweat like a pressed petal,
eat from the ground with my hands.
To recognise clouds as faces
of drowned women:
this body is something I was born to lose.
To wage war with mineral claws,
strangle waves into glass jars, crush
foam into white blossoms.
To count the pricks in my skin,
accept my underskirt of feathers.
To spin into the knifeslit horizon,
feel my skin rust.
To let my bones become sticks
and wait for you to wake me.
In Chinese mythology, Jingwei is a bird reborn from the spirit of Nü Wa, the Flame Emperor's daughter, who drowned in the Eastern Sea. She drops twigs and pebbles into the water, trying to fill it up so no one else will die as she did. She is named after her call, which sounds like 'jingwei'.
NATALIE LINH BOLDERSTON studied English at the University of Liverpool, where she won the 2016 Felicia Hemans Prize for Lyrical Poetry and the 2017 Miriam Allott Poetry Prize, both presented by the Centre for New and International Writing. She now works as an Editorial Assistant in London, UK. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Oxford Poetry, Smoke, The Tangerine, and Voice & Verse. Find her on Twitter @NatBolderston.