Small religious items

A statue of Mazu selling her skin back to the sea. A keychain of Guanyin with a key made of smoke. A handful of salt to season the altar. An orange to unwing. Pyrewood. Nainai’s crucifix. My tongue threading the hole in Jesus’ wrist. My uncle’s car crushed to starlight. The sky scabbing with sirens. His casino membership card. His fake license. The breathalyzer’s digits climbing like a fever. The moon with a man’s face. The cuffs with a man inside them. My uncle’s last hand of blackjack. The numbers adding up. The bail ending in 0. The other car he hit with a child in it. My uncle’s teeth knocked into his mouth, swallowed on impact. Mazu on his dashboard, wearing a skirt of blood. Guanyin eating holes in the windshield like a wingless moth. His license with the wrong man’s face. Fresh knees to pray on. Hymnbooks torn of their spines. The sky with our god redacted.

Pictures (10 maximum), measuring 5″ x 7″ or smaller

My mother keeps photos of her brother with his crotch cut out. There are five photos of him at the beach, posing with a dead seal they found on its back. The seal’s ribcage is exposed, its heart big as two men’s and swollen with salt. There are spines of fish flossing its teeth. My uncle is holding one of its rib bones. He holds it like a guitar, one hand posed to strum. I can hear the song, its shape like a knife. A wound opens my chest like a drawer. My mother reaches in, pulls out my newborn uncle like a long red scarf. Disappearance is a magic trick. So is sawing the body in half. My uncle heard a song coming from the seal’s crotch. He dug into its belly with a plastic pail and spade, discovered a seal baby with half a tail and one lung, tunneling toward air, trying to birth itself through its mother’s death.

Prescription glasses

He took test after test, rows of letters in every size, every font, every color. The alphabet blown up to the size of the sun, then shriveled into ants. How many times did they jab the letter A or T or K, did they move him closer and farther away, did they ask him Please repeatplease name the smallest row you can see, please just try, please tell us which one appears to you, please help us determine the size of your need – before they realized he couldn’t read?


Dear Shushu – the basement flooded again and your mattress rafted to the ceiling – Dear Shushu, we tied your legs together with rope so you wouldn’t chase us in your sleep – Dear Shushu, whose army is after you – do you still dream of an Emperor with emeralds for teeth – with a shroud for a shadow – does he still feed you matches – are your ribs fire-fodder – where is the river the width of your throat – I birthed a shovel to build you a home – my mouth is nothing new to thirst – I flipped my breasts inside out – now they’re buckets – I put out housefires – I called the casino and asked for a man showing his hands – a bullethole in each wrist – a crucifixion is publicity – the country interviews its casualties – holds a mic to the wound – my uncle’s body earns an hour on the news – accident at 8 – suspect detained – where is he now – where should we deport his blood to – stay tuned – what is more American – than a body missing from its own – funeral

Wedding rings

My uncle pawned his ring to pay for the car. He loved it like a son, polished the windows into mirrors, taped the doors back on, sewed the foam stuffing back into the driver’s seat. I learned to drive by sitting on his lap, my thighs soldered to the tops of his, his hands wrapping mine around the wheel. On Sundays, we sprayed the hose on the hood, water chasing dust to the street gutter. Then the hose split like skin and grew a leak, started piloting the water in drunken lines. You turned the pressure on too high, my mother said. The car went dirty for months. The purple paint sloughed off like the colors of a bruise. The skeleton beneath was raw silver, stinging my eyes.  Later, in the junkyard, the car is gutted for parts. The mechanic wears gloves of grease, steel stinking of surgery. Later, my mother severs the tip of her thumb with a cleaver, doesn’t feel the meat unmarry its bone. Later, my uncle uses one of his two phone calls to ask about the car. My mother lies, says it was saved. Says it’s waiting to be driven again. My uncle tells my mother it’s mine now. Its ghost still idles on the driveway. Once, when my uncle drove me to the zoo, we saw a monkey pressed up against the side of its cage, pissing at a passersby. Its penis was clamped between the bars, a limb I knew no name for. I said Look at that hose and my uncle laughed, bought me blue cotton candy. The sugar turned to steam on my tongue. My uncle said he’d someday leave the car to me, meaning he’d leave me with nothing.


Kristin Chang