Jenna Le



Birthmark

 

Born with a birthmark splotched on her right cheek

and none on her left, she harbored in her lopsided

noggin since toddlerhood the barmy thought

that asymmetry was what made the world tick.

 

When things were viewed this way, they all made sense:

the fact that one of her parents was tall, one stout;

the fact that Mother chirped all day, while frowny

Dad just grunted—“Yes . . . No . . . That’s what I meant”;

 

the fact that her big brother always got

the gooier slice of cake, the heirloom watch,

the coo of praise. All things in life, even love,

 

are skew, mon chou! the cosmos seemed to taunt.

A lady, she always dated two men at once:

one she fawned on, one she kept in reserve.

 

 

Terence Tao Has Tarantism

 

            tarantism, noun. An uncontrollable impulse to dance.

 

Much-medaled mathematician Terence Tao

appeared on The Colbert Report last night.

High priest of Fibonacci, pink-clad knight

of the prime numbers, he did not kowtow

to the comedic antics of Colbert

but kept his poise, explaining with aplomb

de Polignac’s cracked quest to plumb

the primes’ deep mystery. I watched him bare

the secrets of sage Euclid on the air.

I once was a math major and am still

the daughter of a math professor. Heir

of a soft spot for up-and-coming Plancks,

I grew quite giddy watching: Tao sat still

but seemed to me to twirl across the planks.



Punch Clock

 

At my old job in downtown Flushing,

we had to punch in and out by touching

our index fingers to a screen.

When I tried to do this, the machine

crowed, “SYSTEM ERROR. SYSTEM ERROR.”

Each day, I had to phone up Jerry,

the weedy, pale man from IT,

to sweet-talk the time clock for me.

 

Like a latter-day horse whisperer,

he thumbed the buttons spiritually. “Sure

you washed your hands today, Ms. Le?

If you’ve oily skin, the sensor can’t see

your fingerprints.” When I responded

that yes of course I’d washed, he handed

me a towelette with a soppy grin,

saying, “Well, why not wash again?”

 

And so I scrubbed my hands once more

while he watched me scrub them. No cigar.

The time clock still refused to function.

“Ah well,” sighed Jerry with compunction,

“Looks like no matter how you rinse,

it doesn’t like your fingerprints.

Hasn’t had a glitch since being installed . . . .

Seems you’re not human, after all.”


 

Chanteuses

 

1. Listening to the Bothy Band

 

Tríona sings an Irish tune,

a rustic old lay. Lay. Delay

a sec, mull that word like a rune:

Tríona singsan Irish tune

while I lay my brow on pillows, swoon,

recall ex-loves, lays of past days.

Tríona sings an Irish tune,

a rustic old Lay, Lady, Lay.

 

 

2. Listening to Guanqun Yu Sing the Part of Leonora in Il Trovatore

 

Coloratura, cabaletta:

The words elude our comprehension,

making us wish we were smarter, better.

Cabaletta, cavatina:

Though the words are opaque, Yus sweet demeanor

wins our hearts and grips our attention.

Cavatina, coloratura:

Hark, xenophobias extinction!

 

 

3. Listening to the Bar Singer

 

Sparrow-like, she warbles in Vietnamese,

perched on stage in ghost-white áo dài,

stilettos so tall it seems that shes

sparrow-legged. She wobbles. The Vietnamese

stragglers look on her with unease,

while the drunken tourists nostalgically sigh.

Despairing, she warbles in Vietnamese,

perched on stage in ghost-white. Ow! Ai!

 

 

4. Listening to the Barn Owl Making Noise Behind the House

 

Folks fear her, call her monkey-faced

because her eyes slant toward her beak.

Her songs no song but a snarl, laced

with sneering. Call her monkey-faced

and shell know at once your lack of taste,

your low pedigree, your rodent reek.

Then fear her. She may be monkey-faced,

but theres brains behind her widows peak.

 

 

5. Listening to Amy Winehouse

 

Lots of svelte cute white girls sobbed when she died,

but those who mourned her most were frights like me:

dark-skinned, snub-faced, scarcely more tall than wide.

Some well-heeled worldly dames wailed when she died,

forgetting that they once had frothed with snide

quips about her bedhead and thrift-store tee.

Folks whod never been friendless canonized

her after death . . . . Her purr was all to me.

 

 

6. Listening to Lita Ford

 

The jukebox belts out Kiss Me Deadly;

the songstress chimes that love is cheap.

I wish that I could say yes readily

to jukebox waltzes, logodaedaly

that furtively flirts, a torch song medley.

But I have promises to keep

The jukebox exalts, but kissings deadly;

though songs cost dimes, loves price is steep.




Jenna Le is the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), which was a Small Press Poetry Bestseller. Her poetry, fiction, essays, book criticism, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI Online, Barrow Street, Bellevue Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Massachusetts Review, Measure, The Normal School Online, Pleiades, 32 Poems, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. Born in Minnesota, she now lives and works as a physician in New York.










                                    

 

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