These medical masks aren’t for surgery,
They’re lotus flowers for the mouth.
The air’s killing us slowly.
Let me tell you a tale about the Emperor
Who planted sorrow in his garden
Because he longed for his late wife
And her stories.
And the bit where the shadow puppeteer
Molded her likeness in clay
And danced its shadow on the wall
Behind a candlelit curtain.
The Emperor teemed with song again.
The Pearl River takes the heart away,
Coils like a belt to break bone.
We’re swimming backwards through history
And, dear, the water’s just fine.
But I’m so thirsty.
So thirsty, I drink your words.
So hungry, I carve the sky with a knife.
As for loneliness, well, I left out the detail
That the Emperor had other wives.
It’s better to believe shadows become enough,
He might have said,
Getting as lost in form as Narcissus once.
The curtain ripples—blink and she’s there:
No, she’s combing the passages of his hair.
Aaron J Styza received his BA in creative writing from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. He currently lives in Guangzhou, China, where he teaches English. His work has appeared in Heron Tree and Sediments Literary-Arts Journal.