Devil’s Lake

Fall 2016 Issue

Sally Wen Mao: The lioness loses her pride in the woods.

There is no innocence

in insouciance. Listless hunting

in the tall grasses alone for so long,

it’s easy to lose sight of everyone

you’ve known from childhood

to the boneyard. Bereft, I knelt

at the lily pond watching myself

reflected in the scum. You start to scratch

out your own face after too much gazing.

And the spring of hallucinations you drink,

licking yourself ugly. You haven’t seen

a king for so long, you make love to objects

like antlers. The phone never rings.

I am a magnificent creature.

The lioness moves in.

In my new gut-renovated apartment,

I smile at the mysterious stain on the floor.

For four weeks, nothing covers it, not a rug

or a bandage, and I sit on this stain

without interrogating its history

or its origins. Things are less painful

that way, the stain exclaims. Let me introduce

you to my friends. So I make friends

with the insects that march across the stain

every day on their small pilgrimage,

until I get hungry and dip the friends

one by one in sauce, and I remember

that the need to kill is my loneliness.

Aubade with Tentacles

This morning, an octopus escaped its tank

in the National Aquarium, its shrunken

muscles sliding through the drainhole.

The pipe led to Hawke’s Bay, a return to the sea,

a habitat this fugitive animal no longer

knew. We all know the longing.

Sometimes early mornings, I stretch like that.

I walk onto strange balconies, shrink

myself into the eyes of lovers, narrow

sinkholes to nowhere. I plot my escape

when their stare penetrates me.

The eye wounds so easily, a cut

thin as paper. And the stranger I kissed

beckons me with coffee and I let

my knees collapse for the day.

To empty a room, an apartment, to be

this emptied. My suitcase holding

all the lives I vacated. Those who

stayed, turned, and those who left, eliminated

all traces. Books, clothes, condoms,

playlists of songs all contaminated.

Lately, everything has a sinkhole except

this room: it overlooks a city I will

never know—what’s the point

of naming it here. If I overlook a body

of water, a basin, it leads, inevitably,

to another sea. And then next week,

when I’ll have flown out already, a gorgeous

chimpanzee escapes from the zoo,

dangles on live wires to the awed

creatures below, staring as if wondering

how did she get there, above fences

so high, how did she run this far.

Poet Sally Wen Mao SALLY WEN MAO is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014), a Poets & Writers Top Ten Debut of 2014. Her next book, Oculus, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2019. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Kundiman, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Hedgebrook, Vermont Studio Center, and the National University of Singapore. Her work is published or forthcoming in Poetry, A Public Space, Tin House, Black Warrior Review, The Missouri Review, and Best American Poetry 2013, among others. She was the 2015–2016 Writer-in-Residence at the National University of Singapore and is the 2016–2017 fellow at Dorothy B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. More from this issue >