medan half-sunken by dust and sorrow

& grandmother strung by the thread of her qipao

outside a church, cotton-chafed and her left shoe
            slotted underneath her wrist. a cross left behind

by a passing missionary between her
            blood-muddied thighs. she didn’t feel

my father until he barreled through her
            body like a bullet, as if weight holds

nothing until it touches air. as if babies must
            oxidize to live. maybe that’s why my father

hates copper and flushes pennies down
            the drain, a smatter of bronze tunneling

down the toilet. i didn’t know the
            indonesian term for father until i asked and

it came out of his mouth like a sneeze. “ayah,”
            he said, and i thought he was in worship before i

realized i was thinking of the wrong
            language. funny how father sounds holy

in arabic, how it just blisters in bahasa.
            in english, i tell my boyfriend that he reminds

me of my grandfather even though i
            never met him except in rumors.

i don’t understand any man, really, just the
            silhouette: like how i pretend to pray

to another god but the only foreign
            word i know is nai nai, meaning my father’s

mother, or breast, or milk in chinese. a
            woman the same character as body

and drink; the same composition
            as religion. if a man is a secret and a girl

an opening, i don’t know why women wear
            veils in weddings or how priests and fathers

leave sisters on sidewalks.

& nai nai birthing christ over a teaspoon of asphalt.

before we broke up,
            my boyfriend carved a hole where

his molar should have been and, savoring
            it, i thought he didn’t taste like wine but

retribution. the kiss more judas than
            jesus, he said he couldn’t feel in me

the dust nascent in medan girls.
            who am i if not devoured by

dirt? my grandmother if not disguised
            by sweat? my father speaks in bahasa to

his mother, so when they talk all i
            catch is ayah ayah ayah. i don’t know what

more my father can say about his father. about
            absence. or about how, regardless of which

slip of asia you’re from, sorrow is
            swallowed and grief indemnified in the

bruise-stained streets ribboning
            throughout sumatra, both violence and

shame endemic in a heritage of
            impurity. grandmother meaning a woman

in chinese but nothing else in
            bahasa, the role a separate

sort of thing.

& nenek nursing a child beside the american-medan church,

priests and fathers
            elapsing. my ayah

not a father,
            but a loss.

Josephine Wu is a sophomore at Georgetown University, where she is a Lannan Fellow studying English and Government. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Kalopsia Literary Journal, Bitter Fruit Review, and Dishsoap Quarterly. She has also been recognized as an Adroit Commended Finalist for prose and nominated for a Best of the Net in poetry. You can find the full collection of her work at

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