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

From: Cream City Review
Volume 36, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2012
pp. 96-99 | 10.1353/ccr.2012.0084

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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.
        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

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.
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.

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.

Copyright © 2012 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Kyla Sterling. "Warnings & Fables, and: Self-Portrait in a Chinese Fable." Cream City Review 1.1 (2012): 96-99. Project MUSE. Web. 6 May. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Sterling, K.(2012). Warnings & Fables, and: Self-Portrait in a Chinese Fable. Cream City Review 1(1), 96-99. Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Retrieved May 6, 2013, from Project MUSE database.
Kyla Sterling. "Warnings & Fables, and: Self-Portrait in a Chinese Fable." Cream City Review 1, no. 1 (2012): 96-99. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed May 6, 2013).
T1 - Warnings & Fables, and: Self-Portrait in a Chinese Fable
A1 - Kyla Sterling
JF - Cream City Review
VL - 1
IS - 1
SP - 96
EP - 99
PY - 2012
PB - Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
SN - 2166-014x
UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/cream_city_review/v036/36.1.sterling.html
N1 - Volume 36, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2012
ER -


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