Poetry: The Magic Dark by Grace H. Zhou

Grace H. Zhou’s “magical dark” exists on the tension between the fairy tales we tell ourselves and the truth of how we treat our most vulnerable—”truth is a screw in the wood / of time,” she says, and she means this: both what we cherish and fear is twisted inside of us in our dark of childhood.


The Magical Dark

Because the past is a new moon, lost
to the naked eye like the unknown
hour when I woke to an empty room
of our carefully pieced and curb-scavenged
home, alone though children are never alone
in this country, I ran out into the hollow, down
stairs I sometimes still traipse in dreamtime chase, down
and under the basement carpark, past the monstrous
mango tree in full dark and leafy glory
to Jannie’s apartment where her mother tucked
me back to bed and sat until I slept.

Because truth is a screw in the wood
of time, I now know of mama’s closing
shift at Waikiki selling good-as-real Raybans
and polyester leis, of baba’s nightly journey for her —
before the police raid, before the lost
wages, before the months of fearful
whispers, nerves edged in terror
at every rap, not knowing what
plea or reason would let us stake
our three bodies to this volcanic rock
in the heart of these borderless seas.

Because the present is a seed, dreaming
the dark like a pilgrim seeking portents
in the ancient asclepions, I light my torch
of grit at this uncertain crossroads, stuff
patience into jars with cabbage and salt, cast
offerings to voided months against the halogen
of a late-night corner deli where the teller’s
father was once architect in a distant land—
then still, then soft, I wait the omens of night.

Because the future is still a loaded question, hanging
over my bed like a pendulous cooling bulb, I hold on
to this magical dark:
over my bed like a pendulous the almost real Raybans,
over my bed like a pendulous the almost gotten job,
over my bed like a pendulous the almost American girl,
over my bed like a pendulous the almost ripe mangoes
over my bed like a pendulous in a tree that is a jungle
over my bed like a pendulous unto itself.




Grace H. Zhou

Grace H. Zhou is a poet and cultural anthropologist living in Oakland, California. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Frontier Poetry, Kweli, Forum Magazine, The Hellebore and other journals. She is a PhD candidate at Stanford University and an alumna of the Tin House Workshop and Kearny Street Workshop's Interdisciplinary Writers Lab.

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