Saccharin / The Great Wenhua Family / A Brochure for Powdered Faces and Black Dresses

Sarah Zhang

[poetry]

Saccharin

The bike, sleek and glacé, was a gift from her bàba.
Made of maraschino cherries, the sugar syrup dripped, coating her hands. The food color dyes her fingers.
The leather seat: the slippery hide of a moribund frog, moist and pulsing.
The wheels—bound mùtàn dust, the ones that stained your hands black and welded at the joints.

/tángjīng/
noun

  1. is intensely sweet but also having a pungent, bitter taste to
    some individuals. (Helgren et al. 1967) estimated that
    around 25% of the members of a poster family will detect an
    off-taste, described as metallic or bitter. It was proposed
    that this unpleasant taste was due to a variety of factors,
    specifically, the ticking of clocks.

Underneath the aerosol paint was a hollow, metal frame, packed with tángjīng beads.
She could ground them.
Soak them in water, infused into Bàba’s favourite longjing tea.
Pour it down the burnished skin of his throat.
Harvest the caramellic flutters that run down her arms
when he finally looks her in the eye.

The yellow fades over the pavement, and over the mountains, an egg cracks. The loam filled garage reserves a small area with vacant eyes, where the dust prospers. Its inhabitant is missing. And somewhere, a girl’s voice grows limbs.



The Great Wenhua Family

My dad tells me to straighten my back,
(or I’ll grow down and not up),
and to hide the note in my hands
from the Red Guards. He says it is
stained with black ink, and when
they see my hands, they’ll chop them off.

My sister cooks the best soup for the family.
She adds one scoop of lard into a pot of water
and a spoonful of soy sauce. She has twigs
instead of bones in her arms that crackle
like the ones in the fireplace.

My mom hides the lipstick in the bottom
drawer. She says not to touch it
because it smells like America—freshly
printed bills and the leather of a Ford
convertible interior. But at night,
she swipes it across her lips, clutching
a photograph of Mae-lin Monrue.

My brother loves the Earth, so they sent
him on a trip to see the other side
of China to plant grains every day
with other friends like him, sowing
until his hands turn inside-out.

My grandfather was so rich
that he owned a whole farm.
But he wanted to be a pilot, so
his friends carried him to the
roof of the town hall, blindfolded him,
and watched him fly like a sparrow.

One time, a celebrity gave a speech
at the town square telling everyone
he grew power out of the barrel of a gun.
He gave us free little red books afterwards.
Now, I see his posters everywhere
as I walk by. He had his hair parted
in the middle like black curtains.

My dad says if I keep slouching,
I’ll be shorter than a hermit,
and more useless than a calabash
with a hole. He tells me I should be riding
on the crest of a wave.


A Brochure for Powdered Faces and Black Dresses

Rock Springs is a cemetery and crematorium. The cemetery opened in 1927 and the crematorium opened in 1934. It is a nice place with good staff and is run and owned by a trust. While learner drivers are not allowed to drive in the cemetery, mourners are allowed to paint misery on their face before arriving; daub white for mourning and black for the etched furrows in their brow (and pink on their cheeks to make sure they don’t look like a corpse). Your company should dress up like a flock of crows and hum their condolences. You will be pushed through cut feathers to see his face, taut and powdered, but it’s wood, polished and shined, that will greet you instead. They will have closed it, because even they cannot lie to a dead man.

My father is buried here in an unmarked grave. I remember when we had our appointments. His smile conflagrated between the gaps, or was he lighting a joint? He was forty-seven in 1956 when he drank five beers and was run over by a red truck on the Princes Highway, Victoria. His breath, of raspy tobacco and fifty-cent mint strips from the dollar store downstairs, furnished the room, and his eyes gleamed in the dark, like he was trying to sell me something he had no faith in. I am now 81 years old. I want to be buried in this cemetery because I was born in a bush camp just below the cemetery gates in 1933. However, I am in Vancouver, Canada, and will be interred far from home. What a shame.

—Ricky Dawson, satisfied customer.

Rock Springs allows for the right peace of mind. Your loved one won’t have died when he is hit by a truck, bones collapsing, nor when they wheel him away, on a bland stretcher. He dies when he is entombed in soil. He dies when you stop hearing his slow exhale every time you close your eyes.
Rock Springs est. 1930.
We grieve with you.

Sarah Zhang is a Chinese-American rising sophomore living in the Philippines. Surrounded by a community filled with diversity, Sarah aims to share the vivid aspects of her cultures through her poetry. Her works have been accepted in Eunoia Journal, The Daphne Review, K’in Literary Journal, The Heritage Review, and have been honored by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In her free time, she plays tennis with her sister and likes New York-style pizza.