Poem: Levitation by Kristine Ong Muslim
Imagine water and its mutable
foundation dissolving your island,
the landlocked continental mass
that houses your trespassers.
Since you are deftly angled for survival,
you, too, can walk on water, can float
several feet off the ground without the help
of strings, like how the ancients did it:
imbibe in its rendered form
what cannot be made whole.
Conjure what does not exist.
Conjure what cannot exist. Believe.
And you will float. You will then see
what your sinking island is made of:
a small farming town, valley-ringed,
denuded tropical forests around the periphery,
basalt streaked yellow by sulfide deposits.
Exposed by weathering are portions
of bedrock, bands of serpentine
and calcite, the stuff made of time.
Beyond the valleys, beyond
this doom, the slouched forms
of city people slowly waste away,
weakened by their conveniences.
Everywhere, the whiff of corn fields,
of grains of rice sifted through threshers,
of religious lunacy, of superstition,
of tenacity and sweat and violence.
The farmhands, who cannot read and cannot write,
pile sacks of ammonium nitrate near the heating duct.
And now they are burning. They are screaming.
You don’t forget the sound of dying men.
You also don’t forget the sight of 58 mangled bodies
haphazardly buried by a backhoe, of chainsawed men—
how they wet their pants when the blade starts whirring
and how it takes a long time for them to die.
You don’t forget the telltale hum of fluctuating
electricity before the transformers explode,
the drone of tractors squat against the sludge,
the sound of galloping wild horses—
behind them, the light, golden and dwarfed
by their graceful, sinewy bodies. The wild horses
once owned these fields you have razed and leveled.
Now, your people’s dirty hands have reshaped
these tracts of land, tilled what grows in loam.
How the dirty hands take more than they can give.
How the dirty hands widen the festering holes
of the hollow men, freeing their ripened insides
until their rot permeates the groundwater,
until their rot taints the hardwood planks that line
the two-story house your elders built with their hands.
This disgust, this rage, this swamp that reeks
of pestilence—because nothing really ever heals.
The man you love kills himself. His arc of descent
is a dome holding up, holding down your sky.
Under the dome, your truths are laid bare,
carrying your many names, petering outward to lick
the soles of your slightly elevated feet.
You will soon lose the ability to levitate,
and the water will gobble up your island,
drown the swash zone, the wrack line, the berm.
Only the farm dogs will survive, of course, because
dogs live forever. Listen to them howl with the honk
of the air horn, howl with the siren from a faraway ship.
Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of several books and chapbooks, most recently Grim Series (Popcorn Press, 2012), We Bury the Landscape (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012), and Insomnia (Medulla Publishing, 2012). Her stories and poems appeared in many places, the likes of Asia Literary Review, Boston Review, Southword, Sou’wester, and The State. She is the poetry editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, the quarterly literary journal published by Math Paper Press and edited by Jason Erik Lundberg. Her online home is http://kristinemuslim.weebly.com