"China Child": graphic by Ernest Williamson III
Kelley White

the daughters of silence went home in the morning
the automobile left a mark on the street
the dogs fell to barking just before sunrise
the tails have been bobbed, the ears have been clipped

babygirl’s backpack got left on the sidewalk
sister’s allowance must have been spent
one cat climbs a lamp post, one cat bends a tree limb
the birds have forgotten to nest on the ledge

under the porch lives a broken-winged swallow
under the stoop hides a hungry old snake
back of the house sits a worried old lady
behind the house waits a man with nothing to eat

she wears her hair long, it is tangled with feathers
he cut off his beard and rubbed salt on his face
the children have painted their eyebrows and lashes
the old ones wear scarves that leave questions erased

three goats and a rooster were spotted at sunset
a grasshopper woke in the middle of March
a frog with six legs and a tail like a tadpole
a tree with trunk twisted and spelling out braille

you left out the bicycle, let it get rusty
forgot the key that was hidden beneath
he threw out the painting she made of his children
they lost all the buttons, their shoes were unlaced

the blankets were folded and left on the back fence
the flowers were snapped off and left by the door
someone wrote a poem with soot and a finger
an arrow was chalked on the street toward the school

they found grasses braided with knots on each corner
nothing was left but the soles of her feet
they carried ice tongs and cold tongues of angels
they looked for a sign, they found nothing but teeth

(note: this poem is designed to have interchangeable lines—
the lines can be cut into strips, put in a hat and shaken, then
pulled out of the hat and read in whatever order appears)