Adam Zhou

Chekhov’s Gun in Hiatus

Inside the attic, the faces of victims show on TV,
but outside, where bullets fall

like rain, and scent of flames
blur the air, kids are dancing. They throw stones
at walls of glass which multiply into confetti,
laughter, it’s almost like a birthday party.
Their shackled hands with raw stitches
still know that their heads
are not far away from their bodies.
They know their bones
will still grow to bloodied flowers.

When the kids would grow old,
they would remember the streets
and the parks and the sidewalks
draped around the mountains,
lit afire from the sunset.
The innocence of a slaughter.

But maybe this scene is a vestige
of the pre-riot roads buried
with snowflakes, or maybe
they just never knew
the faces that are never broadcast:
a pregnant woman shot while breastfeeding,
the onlooking son crying, throwing his toy robot
in protest, but only to be silenced as well.

Back home, it is safe: gunshots are muffled
by the static of the radio,
the drone of the grandfather clock.

Elegy for ______

When we were living
together, we would hear the sirens.

My sister would fix the three-legged
dinner table with a hammer. Together:

an inadvertent harmony. She asked
for the wrench. Flustered,
I pass her the nails. She asks me
to listen for any sign
of aeolian whispers. I tell her
I hear the jerks and hiccups against wood.

I think we are under some hallucination.
Her eyes are from a Keane painting.
Who knows what they are hiding. I do.

She dreams of people in uniforms
telling her to go back home
to her daily routine of crumpling
prayers. She is about to give back

her skin. Gone is the pitying
whisper: there is a woman
carrying her father’s coffin but no—

there will be no elegy. Instead, choice
to know what revenge means. Look here,

there is where she hit back. On the other side
of the walls, an interlude of charred roads.

Unfinished Song

The rap song from the speaker stutters—
the static is now metronomic. The listener
should be more discerning. The lyrics
are snappy but they remind him

of his sister. It should not be fair
to close her up in a wooden casket
and call it love. Most night
she wants to be held when all he hears
are the echoes of gunfire spilling

onto his bedroom floor. A slur of a semi-melody
breaks like glass. This too is a rap
but the rhythm is unpredictable
and he has to fill in the words

censored: an impromptu verse about the churches
suffocated with people on their knees
not praying, not confessing their sins. They are pushed
down by their oppressors:

masked, rusting yellow badge pinned
onto breasts, sweet sour
sweat clinging onto rough skin,
coarse hands against the kneeler’s neck
carving his skin raw

because they are the ones holding the blades
and not the others. To the composer: lie
down on your belly, hands behind your back. Listen
to the listeners. Choke on their words.

Untitled, 2020, Oil on Canvas

The ocean claimed him.
Picture this sketch on canvas:

inks wet, the borders of the currents
painted in grey-blue
varnish. The water wraps

around his anatomy.
He too is an artist’s work,
but he is chiseled
from the inside, out.
When the boy was silenced:
a strike to his chin.

An outburst of red blood
is almost floral. Liquid
gradients blossom on a blank slate:
his pain when mutated
to a work of art captures
our attention. Teeth clenched
now his tongue is stained red too.
He cannot keep enduring
the whip caressing him.

The noises around him
now a lullaby.
It is almost time for sleep.
Frame this: the boy watched
himself die. Underwater,
the people who wanted
to silence him
look so harmless.

The Place Where the Knife Hit

In memory of Reynaldo de Guzman

There were nights like this. Stars trapped
in interruption. The dark sky
is a grave of lost voices, it swallows remains

of lies: A fourteen year old was “lost”
here. His bones pressing against skin, skin
floating in a river, skin slivered open
with thirty stab wounds.

His mother can’t recognize him. His face
wrapped with tape. After the death,
the uniformed killer lingered

to take care of him.
He slipped the stolen marijuana
into the boy’s pocket. How easy it was

to end him. Back under the stars,
there is quite the view. His mother lighting a candle:
the lavender embalms. She listens

to the patter of the faucet. The preparation for a long
bath. She holds a cup of instant coffee
with the tips of her fingers. She breathes
in the warmth and powdered ashes.
She keeps the door locked.

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