Excerpted 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.