Three poems from “Sell Your Bones” by Reid Mitchell

97839625802231Excerpted from Sell Your Bones, a new collection of poetry by Reid Mitchell (PalmArtPress, Berlin, February 2019). Reprinted with permission.


“I Planted a Banana Tree

Outside Our Window”


Li Qingzhao speaks to her husband who is long absent


Banana tree in frozen rain:

nothing looks more dead, nothing harder to kill.

An axe can’t chop through.

My garden saw makes it bleed milk.

The trunk won’t rot, can’t burn,

but a field mouse leaves his footprint.


We planted the tree under our window.

Even cut to the ground, roots and stump,

its heart reaches up to pierce the gray sky,

and flower in the sun.


Too tired to dry my sandalwood hair.

Today I hack it short with a paring knife.

Black and crystal against the cinnamon tiles.

If you ever rap on the window, remember

I’ve grown too old to blush. The nape of my neck

needs your breath to warm it.




Li Po Becomes a Catfish


White bottomed wooden clouds float

Princess Moon shows sharp canine teeth,

cunning tip of tongue.


She sends her kisses waterbound.

The stream’s surface freezes white.

I stay warm in my riverbed.


I danced with Princess Moon more times than one

before I tried to drown that goddess, partner

to every poet in China, in White Monkey.


The world may announce

I died besotted

but I’m a mudcat learning to breathe muck,


A river raccoon swallowing trash.

I am not the tide to rise

at the whim of Princess Moon.


I am the bewhiskered

monster of the craft of song,

one hundred hooks jutting my jaw.




Exiled Kings Sport Less Vanity Than Do I


Fall in Grand-mama Village, Tsinghua, Beijing


Surrounded by cabbages and selling bar soap

sits a toothless grandmaw-maw whose grin

questions why an obvious grandpappy like me

lives alone in a town where he cannot speak

the language, with no pleasant, roundfaced

granddaughter, as she has, to make sure

he reaches his door without harm.


This place of alleys and lanes,

this confined graveyard,

world city’s old age institution

this blessed plot of land where fog drips off

the overhanging branches after dusk

and cats cannot see the moon.

Night is the temperature of tea gone cold

in the cup, brown and bloody water

in the bath, autumn when the last leaf

has fallen. My teeth? A row of acorns.


Because here some waitresses smile

and know I want always two beers

and their restaurants are clean, well-lit places

I have stayed, not calling it—yet—home.

Reid Mitchell is a New Orleanian teaching in China. More specifically, he is a Scholar in Jiangsu Province’s 100 Foreign Talents Program, and a Professor of English at Yancheng Teachers University.