Three Poems

by Kristina Tom





The mountain that loved a bird






I am the end of a rope
thread an ocean
across  but what
spun fiber
stays wound,
what saltwater
in time,  won’t dissolve?


This house is mine, child of peasants,
the names on the shrine guard the door—
We were close, a bus ride, but we didn’t know the village’s name.
A-yeh did.

I sense a
snapping of lines
vines breaking  one
then another
flinging themselves
from the wall.



Blood is not tongue is not language—
is air.
I’m without words
without breath
what  would  have  been  mine.           Tell me:

If you cannot see a door,cannot name a door,is there a door?

I find my name in a sea
of brush strokes,  learn his
in time to see itburied,but I hold
a bit of earth  this whisper
to myself, again and again  as the coin that fell
from a white envelope remains
unspent,  that  sweet  lozenge

that would chase the bitter still there in my purse
when I reach for my wallet
my keys
a stick of gum.



Strange the single seed of discovery and loss—
a flower cannot bloom a hundred days
nor a man a hundred years
Petals shed daily reminders,

point the way, crumb-like, to the southern gate—
but how to unlock a door you don’t know is there?



Let me go,the sprig of pine has dried
the red thread unlucky

I was American
distinct in a Beijing sun

and mistook the slack in the string
for its release.

Can you speak?  No.



I was late, could not give
the English to save you, the language
of doctors, of wellness.

Thin bed, thinner sheets,
you lay bloated,
but thumbs up at me.

My father pushed you back—
neither  of  us  understood.

He told me in the elevator
what you wrote:  your  painstaking
fight with black marker,
squiggly sickbed strokes.

I didn’t think to walk back
until I’d flown miles  away.  Next time, I’d tell you

I’d let you go.  Guide your hand
to signor  loose  the  cord  myself.





He doesn’t belong to Monday afternoons—
she comes home, he’s waiting by the open door;
so begin the car rides: day there, night back,

the moon more faithful now than ever
to this window. He still sweeps her
from the back, clears the safety belt,
soft syllable so—once

a cough catches, a premonition:
the neighborhood an animal,
unseen claws—consider

his shirt did not use to thread so thin.
She discovers oyster crackers
in the hospital cafeteria, doesn’t wash
her hands, thumbs

salt, when she sees him age in the bed
and learns the need to be gentle—
the surest but not the only way

to teach a child restraint.



The mountain that loved a bird



A picture I may have read and remembered

or constructed from longing to receive
the revelation—perhaps
the fossils lie in every story,

seed words that never leave us.

What have you forgotten, some bedtime story?

Cross fifteen threads of ocean,
spill a day  hot and humid  from the gleaming pill
into merlion song

still I am here, have always been
home lies always east.



The flat of a crayon marks monsoon waves.
Indigo, onyx, and thrown white gravel make
this mountain, paper wedged into peaks, ridges,

crevasses of over-eager glue
spread atop the sponged sunset.
But mango is hardly worth my money—

instead:  a bit of heart, black canyon
coffee crunch, pineapple
rice and prawns

tea pulled to the floor like a rambutan
tumble, or the chopstick trickle
of shod girls down stairs

my heart so fast, the bed shakes



I have always loved blue
known only this rock, the path of sun in day
the path of moon in night.

I am too old to wear hearts on my fingers
but the ring circles the silver and aquamarine of a bay
as careful as you held your gall-ridden body—

Close the eye as a shell—
so many threads—one is enough.Enough.

I ask for rock and no water,  no water and rock—
what roots reach for cracks, pushing,  always pushing,

How many times must the rock
break for the seed

finger the wound left behind, the gap that threatens
collapse under gravity. Break and return,
break and return — her wings

a feathered fan to the sun.
Waiting to heal, she picks at the scab
knowing the scar will be beautiful.



Kristina Tom is an American-Chinese writer currently based out of Singapore, where she works as a journalist for the Straits Times. You can find her poetry on the web at and on her personal website

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