by Sarah lao
The Westminster Schools
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.
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 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.