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Warnings & Fables, and: Self-Portrait in a Chinese Fable
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Warnings & Fables, and: Self-Portrait in a Chinese Fable

Warnings & Fables

Be careful when you cross the street.       Don’t just look both ways—look up and down as well.The ground opens in mysterious places. A sinkhole at the corner of Franklin Street and Maple.I’ve seen the sky issue funnel clouds without provocation.A bank robbery.The teller says go home,     they made off with everything we had. I watched my own hand catch fire    just for coveting an aspirin.Five perfect flames,          blue light pouring from my nail beds.It isn’t much of an exaggeration.         You can still smell the smoke. I’m telling you these stories to illustrate a point.    My mother choked on an apple core: five shining seeds     that tasted like blossom,          sweet as cyanide. When they buried her, what do you think grew         from her grave?         A thicket of nettle, a tangle of jewelweed. [End Page 96]         The tragic column in the Sunday paper is nothing to me but a black and white warning.    What you take and leave—    the fable of a child who drowned in a bucket of dishwater. Silver spoons and soap bubbles.        It was a pretty death as such things go [End Page 97]

Self-Portrait in a Chinese Fable

I devote myself to the study of Chinese calligraphy—         a bamboo brush with the hair of a weasel.     Plain walls, white wainscoting rises from the baseboard. Light bulb swinging from a wire. I practice self-imposed isolation, semi-cursive lies,    black slash, elongated curve    that means love is never the word   you’re looking for. I wear barely nothing: a curtain wrapped         around my body, tucked and folded           at my breasts. Sheets of rice paper tacked to the wall billow         in the breeze from the open window. These are the noticed details—an eight-armed star,               a black pebble, dry pigment,               an old mustard jar.   What matters most is precision, the fine line         the open palm. [End Page 98] My hair uncombed, twisting in all directions. The only eyes that see me         are the eyes I paint: a mural      on white walls: black dragons, pupil-less. [End Page 99]

Kyla Sterling

Kyla Sterling was raised in a small town in Western New York. She recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she currently teaches literature and composition. She is a recipient of the 2011 Noel Callow Poetry Award and the Amon Liner Poetry Award. Her work appears in The Greensboro Review.

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