Fairy Tale with Chinese Mother

once upon a time, a boy comes home
crying. she comforts him in the language
he’s lost. he cries even harder. his tears
fill a well. she is silent long after
he goes to bed. with her silence

she freezes the world.
more than a princess
is put to sleep.
more than the apples

once upon a time, a boy is woken
by sunlight. he follows it
through the woods and leaves
grains of rice to mark his way
home. he finds a house
of candy but has never tasted candy
and prefers the herbs
in his mother’s cooking, flavors
he has no names for.

once upon a time, she asks
what the words mean.
he knows but cannot explain
without English.

once upon a time,
he rescues a princess
and brings her home. his mother, seeing
the dirt on his face and the ash
on his armor, tells him
to wash up so the princess will know
his good upbringing.

she marvels at the princess’s golden hair
and eyes blue and wide
as the sky.
she is silent for so long
the princess leaves.

the boy returns
in his best clothes, his black hair
combed to a shine, just the way
his mother likes it. he sees her
alone and needs
no explanation. again

he sets off, never saves
another princess, kills the beasts
just to kill them.

one morning he comes to a clearing.
birds sing to each other, hidden
in orange leaves, a song
he longs to understand.
he sits on the dirt
until the sun sets, slowly at first
then all at once.

once upon a time, a wish
is made. a coin
tossed in a well, a laugh
in the air above it.
the tower traps nothing,
the incantation is never said
in any language, the mirror
is never posed its question.
a mother combs her son’s hair,
the only dark thing
in the sunlit kingdom.

If, and Longer

Balled below my tongue
like a seed
I won’t plant, afraid to surrender
the dream

Examen in San Francisco

In the coffee shop, unctuous with light, I wait / for the syrup to settle in my gut.