cleanliness, (un)godliness

by May Chong

we were plunged into the river
and made holy the pale man
said water would flush
ancestors’ scales from our eyes
ahma half-bent with fury
wept and swore
there would be payback

her hard heart unmelting
could not picture all gods
flowing into one to flood avenues
where our souls once ran weeping
to lay heads in the swing
of an understanding lap
porcelain smooth and cold so strange
to speak to one when you could
convene with a thousand voices thousand
bodies arms tongues to sway
the cause for mercy or murder

dissolved our sight yet
we did not reclaim it
we were not washed away only washed
different swept up in currents we
did not oppose and so with every tide
our ears deafened to the chants
and songs calling us home
every wave sucked at the timber
and every drop blurred
the way back
we might not have grown so
determined to drift if we had known
what lay behind the dam
miscarriage of beliefs
had learned of hatred haters hated roots
torn from ancient landwater had talked
rode rowed swum drowned
our way onto other shores

for now I flow I am fluid
unwilling neither/
nor which is to say
on the jade emperor’s birthday
the incense floods
my eyes and the altar cake
still stings like a scorpion
upon my tongue.