Leaves Fall, Then New Ones

Through autumn leaves that lift

and drop like birdless wings,

perpetually rearranging

the Public Garden, my daughter

cartwheels and sings.

 

Tourists and policemen on horses

tap their feet, clap, toss coins that tumble

through the brisk air like brass and copper

buttons popping off a worn coat.

The attention makes her sing louder.

 

In this place ablaze with bare shoulders

and midriffs at the first sum of sun

and warmth, will she forget Chinese

operas, their coy heroines? Will she

forget the high-pitched Cantonese,

the hurried drums and gongs

marching warrior and dynastic lore?

What about the two-stringed

ehru’s hungry melody?

 

Already, my girl blends English

with hand gestures, using puppetry for words

she has no vocabulary for. One day, maybe

we won’t be able to talk at all.

 

And those rotting teeth, they grow

when she laughs or holds a note, but

what some call cavity, others may call

sweet tooth. But I won’t stop

buying candy that sticks,

disintegrates bone, the way

new language eats the old.

I’ll buy her records

of patriotic songs

performed by the Mickey Mouse Club,

and that Strawberry Shortcake album

on pink vinyl with pictures

of houses made of cupcakes.

 

By the bagful she digests

berries and Pez, a pill-shaped candy

proffered from another’s mouth.

Donning paper crowns,

she licks tartar sauce

from fish sandwiches,

and like royalty, sure

of another meal, and another,

she tosses both bread and fish.

Sometimes, I think

she’s a burgeoning emperor,

but is she conqueror, or the conquered?

 

All I know is this: Leaves fall,

and new ones will appear.

She’ll have no trouble

discarding words.

My little chanteuse

will sing and forget

dialogue and dialect,

displacing intonations

with new, delectable melodies,

enough to feed the most roaring

appetite, so much there will be

leftovers enough for three

pet lions, three lions answering to the name

of Genghis Khan.

Yim Tan Wong’s first poetry collection has been a Finalist for Four Way Book’s Levis Prize and the Kundiman Poetry Prize. She currently supports her writing habit by working at a Boston hospital. Her poems have appeared in Spillway, Tidal Basin Review, The Portland Review, Off the Coast, Crab Orchard Review, Crab Creek Review, MARGIE, and Michigan Quarterly Review, among other journals.