Chang

Cover 14

Fragrant Maiden battles a British warship

Kristin Chang

Fragrant Maiden is the literal translation of Shi Xianggu, more commonly known as Ching Shih (Ching’s widow). She was the infamous pirate queen of the late 19th century, feared by the British, Portuguese, and Qing Dynasty’s navies. Formerly a sex worker in British-occupied Canton, she was kidnapped by pirates, married twice, and eventually led the largest pirate fleet in history, terrorizing European colonial trading forces and the late Chinese empire. She is one of the few pirates to retire peacefully.

I hole your ship            o white man            my mantelpiece
of skulls            I sip from            the sea            like your weak
British tea            call me whore            and I’ll braid my hair
around your neck            like a leash            call me bitch
and I dismember            your ship            I knock you back
to sea            I ship your bones            home
I make every white            woman a widow            I
bride            the sea            I rock            my boats            to sleep
I seasick            you             I sic the sea            on you
I have so many men            I burn them like logs
I warm my hands            in your blood            carry your spine
a cutlass            I lass            I wear my cuts like a coat            of armor
you dare army            me I make meat            of your land
I teethe your coasts            crass             I candle you
let the fire read            your flesh out loud            I smoke
you into yearlong            highs            I opium            your sleep slurred
you came            
in your sleep            every night as a boy            dreaming
yourself            inside            my body I hunger
whole            you hunger into me            a hole
when you bend            to drink            thirst is the shap            of your own            face             lapping itself            I lap you
in the water            shark-circle you            sunk            I come to eat
the after            I spit            your bones ashore
my teeth            brightened            by your white            meat
don’t bet            your body             against my many
lives            don’t you see            every sea            is mine             to man
space break

Fragrant Maiden captures Angel Island

america says            islands make            the best prisons
so I capture them            all alcatraz            ellis
angel            I rip the wings off            seagulls
rain of blood            reign of white            feathers
to enter            the underworld            I hear they weigh
your heart            against a feather            to enter
america            I hear they weigh            your penis
against            a pigeon            o chink            what chance
do you have            against white            coats
doctors unzipping            your anus            empty
they starve you            shitless             o immigrant
the sea            sells your body            to the nearest
coast            the country cells you            in the nearest
mouth            they count your teeth            scan your blood
for signs of riot            rot off your bones
I’ll take you            home            all the gold
you were promised            is here            on my boat
I corner kings            loot crowns like carrion            I felled
a war fleet            trussed them            in my own hair            trust
me            I sieged the sea            til it surrendered            sank
itself            america I capture            this island
I ransom            this angel            now your god            must pay

space break

Fragrant Maiden learns a marine

is either a soldier            or a science
in your textbooks            I have many names: mammal
blowhole            swallower            of seas
I name my children            after every army
from shanghai to qinghai:            france            britain germany
america            japan            I teach fish to lay eggs            in my mouth
my body a school            a swimming feast
I learned to make love            to whales            sea
urchins            my father            finned me            with his own
hands            held me            by the hair            every night
I begged our boat            to betray us            to touch
the bottom of the ocean            like the back            of my throat
tender            with wounds            I learned land
like a second            language            taught my legs to bow
before bow            legged men            we were all fish            once
choking on hooks            of air my blood is the ink
of squids            my eyes            black eel            farms            when the british
came they called us            seafood            cracked our mouths
open like clams            my soldier was bearded            a redhead
so my blood            never showed            I scraped the freckles
from his face            believing they were stars            to guide
me back to sea            believing a god            could be read
from the sky            bruised            past blue
science says            certain sounds            can only be heard
in water            for instance            my name            my dead
children he drowned            tucked nightly            into the sea
each time I was pregnant            I grew a tail            for water
birth            he fed air to my gills            so I’d never leave
so the sea came to me            instead            I gave birth to it
I pulled the flood            through his body            like thread
through            a needle’s            eye

Kristin Changlives in NY and reads for Winter Tangerine. Her work has been anthologized in Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3 and Ink Knows No Borders. She is the recipient of a 2019 Pushcart Prize and Resist/Recycle/Regenerate fellowship with the Wing On Wo Project in Manhattan Chinatown, where she helped teach paper-making workshops as community building. Her debut chapbook “Past Lives, Future Bodies” is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (October 2018).

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