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Chinese New Year

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The dragon is in the street dancing beneath windows
   pasted with colored squares, past the man
who leans into the phone booth’s red pagoda, past
   crates of doves and roosters veiled

until dawn. Fireworks complicate the streets
   with sulphur as people exchange gold
and silver foil, money to appease ghosts
   who linger, needy even in death. I am

almost invisible. Hands could pass through me
   effortlessly. This is how it is
to be so alien that my name falls from me, grows
   untranslatable as the shop signs,

the odors of ginseng and black fungus that idle
   in the stairwell, the corridor where
the doors are blue months ajar. Hands
   gesture in the smoke, the partial moon

of a face. For hours the soft numeric
   click of mah-jongg tiles drifts
down the hallway where languid Mai trails
   her musk of sex and narcotics.

There is no grief in this, only the old year
   consuming itself, the door knob blazing
in my hand beneath the lightbulb’s electric jewel.
   Between voices and fireworks

wind works bricks to dust—hush, hush
   no language I want to learn. I can touch
the sill worn by hands I’ll never know
   in this room with its low table

where I brew chrysanthemum tea. The sign
   for Jade Palace sheds green corollas
on the floor. It’s dangerous to stand here
   in the chastening glow, darkening

my eyes in the mirror with the gulf of the rest
   of my life widening away from me, waiting
for the man I married to pass beneath
   the sign of the building, to climb

the five flights and say his Chinese name for me.
   He’ll rise up out of the puzzling streets
where men pass bottles of rice liquor, where
   the new year is liquor, the black bottle

the whole district is waiting for, like
   some benevolent arrest—the moment
when men and women turn to each other and dissolve
   each bad bet, every sly mischance,

the dalliance of hands. They turn in lamplight
   the way I turn now. Wai Min is in the doorway.
He brings fish. He brings lotus root.
   He brings me ghost money.

Lynda Hull, "Chinese New Year" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2006 by the Estate of Lynda Hull. Used by permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2006)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 1986 issue of Poetry magazine

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Chinese New Year

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