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Jane Wong reads her poem “After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly”.

Brought to you by Complexly, The Poetry Foundation, and poet Paige Lewis. Learn more: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/

Jane Wong:
https://janewongwriter.com/

Poem: After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly by Jane Wong
Book: POETRY Magazine, November 2018 Issue
Publisher: The Poetry Foundation

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My name is Jane Wong and I will be reading my poem "After Preparing the Altar the Ghosts Feasts Feverishly". This poem is for my family, for my ghosts, and my ancestors who did not survive the Great Leap Forward, which was a massive starvation from 1958 to 1962.

And this is a poem that's really focused on giving them all they want to eat.

After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly

How hard it is to sleep
in the middle of a life.
-Audre Lorde

We wake in the middle of a life,             hungry.
We smear durian       along our mouths, sing soft
death a lullaby.  Carass breath, eros of licked fingers 
and the finest perfume.  What is love if not      rot?
We wear the fruit's hull as a spiked crown, grinning
in green armor.  Death to the grub, fat in his milky
shuffle!  Death to the lawlessness      of dirt!  Death
to mud and its false chocolate!  To the bloated sun
we want to slice open and yolk                all over
the village.  We want a sun-drenched      slug feast,
an omelet loosening its folds like hot Jell-O.  We want 
the marbled fat of steak and all      its swirling pink
galaxies.  We want the drool, the gnash, the pluck of
each corn kernel, raw and summer             swell.
Tears welling up              oil.  Order up!  Pickled
cucumbers piled like logs for a fire, like fat limbs we 
pepper and succulent           in.   Order up: shrimp
chips curling in a porcelain bowl like subway seats.
Grapes peeled from bitter bark -- almost translucent,
like eyes we would rather see.  Little girl, what do you 
leave, leaven          in your sight?  Death to the open
eyes of the dying.  Here,           there are so many open
eyes we can't close each one.         No, we did not say
the steamed eye of a fish.  No eyelids fluttering like 
no butterfly wings.  No purple yam lips.  We said eyes.
Still and resolute as a heartbreaker.          Does this break
your heart?                                 Look, we don't want 
to be rude, but seconds, please.  Want: globes of oranges
swallowed whole like a basketball or Mars or whatever
planet is the most delicious.            Slater Saturn!
Ferment Mercury!  Lap up its film of dust, yuk sung!

Seconds, thirds, fourths!  Meat wool!  A bouquet of
chicken feet!  A garden of              melons, monstrous
in their bulge!             Prune back nothing.  We purr
in this garden.  We comb through berries and come out
so blue.  Little girl,                      lasso tofu, the rope
slicing its belly clean.  Deep fry a cloud so it tastes like
bitter gourd or your father leaving -- the exhaust of
his car, charred.  Serenade a snake and slither its tongue
into yours and                      bite.  Love!  What is love
if not knotted in garlic?  Child, we move through graves
like eels, delicious         with our heads first, our mouths
agape.  Our teeth:     little needles to stitch a factory of
everything made in China.     You ask: Are you hungry?
Hunger eats through the air like ozone.  You ask: What
does it mean to be rootless?  Roots are good to use as 
toothpicks.   You: How can you wake in the middle of
a life?  We shut and open our eyes like the sun shining
on tossed pennies in a forgotten well.  Bald copper,
blood.  Yu choy bolts               into roses down here.
While you were sleeping, we woke to the old leaves
of your backyard shed and ate that and one of your
lost flip-flops too.  In a future life, we saw rats overtake
a supermarket with so much milk, we turned opaque.
We wake to something boiling.  We wake to wash dirt
from lettuce, to blossom into your face.  Aphids along
the lashes.  Little girl, don't forget         to take care
of the chickens, squawking in their mess and stench.
Did our mouths buckle                        at the sight
of you devouring slice            after slice of pizza and
the greasy box too?  Does this frontier swoon for you?
It's time to wake up.  Wake the tapeworm who loves
his home.  Wake the ants,             let them do-si-do
a spoonful of peanut butter.  Tell us, little girl, are you
hungry, awake,                        astonished enough?