3 poems

by Sarah lao

The Westminster Schools

Ghost Story

Somedays, when the light
buckles through the shutters

of my window like a
mackerel skimming the

surface of water,
I see a ghost.

A vision of the pietà, except
all the roles are swapped.

What I see: my grandmother,
rounded and colored in the muted

palette of frost, crouching over
the bathroom tile. In the center

there’s a bucket teeming with
suds, and she’s cradling the

Sunday laundry in the naked
caress of her arms. And so she

opens. Grandmother’s never believed
in the rumbling spins of a washing

machine, had always chosen
to scrub with the stiff bristles

of a brush in the long
drags of ritual. Cheap

sunrise lighting and a silence
in the halls but for measured

scrapes, there’s a sense
of holiness. A tranquility

broken by my intrusion. And
after everything has been lathered

and rinsed, Grandmother wrings
the cloth like a twist in time. And

so she opens. The window’s
latch. Hangs the laundry to sun

dry off the shoulder of the building
like a paper crane carrying

a dream. The truth is,
this is where I stop watching.

Get out of bed. Get changed.
Eat my breakfast.

But if I looked back,
what I’d see:

a flock of pigeons cooing
on the rooftop, sky

blank with pale light. All that’s left
is the laundry, jutting into the air,

the wind rustling and breathing
into the crevice.

And so she opens.

Tongue, Swallowed

after Ouyang Jianghe

What a thing it would be, if we all could fly.
Still flight is but a word caught at the junction

of dirt & sky, tail hooking like a lure. In a dream
I saw myself loose-palmed & hollow, a ring of birds

sitting gagged at my feet, empty cistern begging
to be choked. This was the story you told me:

a pair of swallows circling over forest fire,
muscle & fringe turning ash/gale/limbo.

Springtime and you taught me what it meant to
be free—a body of dough battered

by the wind, silent howl through the air.
Asphyxiation stuck throat-deep

& a tongue, limp and motherless
—remember, you are nothing

but a word. So picture this:
in Chinese, the word for swallow

is made up of a wide, heaving
mouth, a pair of wings unfurled.

& before I wake, the dream will end with
my voice crackling to a warble that repeats

my name like an anthem.

Night Fishing at Antibes

after Pablo Picasso

Spiral of deformity, fractured
house of mirrors. To begin
in the disarray, you must trek
the whole edge of canvas.

Start in the backdrop. A chateau
blooms purple hydrangea,
each waxy petal a doorway
cracking to shadowed gorge.

Now look for the light source: a chrome
yellow moon, starry moth, and two
kerosene lamps. The scene whimpers
in a nocturnal scale, oozes the occult.

But on the right, two bodies are
conceived. Both mistress and wife
overhang the cliff as precarious as
the bicycle balanced on one wheel.

Maybe he can ignore all this. Focus
only on the canoe, the French Riviera,
his spear. Forget his partner’s foot caught
in a line and track the barracuda below.

His hand clenches on the
spear, and in a single gasp
of clarity, all he can think is,
I never wanted to be a fisherman.


Sarah lao

Sarah Lao is a sophomore at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. She currently edits for Evolutions Magazine, reads for Polyphony Lit, and serves as Social Media Manager for Inklette. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sooth Swarm Journal, Liminality, and the Inflectionist Review, among others.