Poetry: Creation Myth by Shiyang Su

“I said flesh / was a soft patch of wheat, a half-knotted rope. I said / rain was the unnamed radar sound in a dinosaur rib.”

Shiyang Su zooms into a singular moment between the speaker and their father that expands, through sensational and textural images, into a broader glimpse at the way grief, pain, and loss can transform us. The callous is the backbone for the poem, the question of life is the heart of it.

Creation Myth

When I was five or six, I kept asking my father how
I was born, an answer neither of us was ready for.
So he came up with a game. We’d spend our Friday nights
sitting at the dining table and, with fried rice and beef stew,
we’d imagine the creation of everything. I said flesh
was a soft patch of wheat, a half-knotted rope. I said
rain was the unnamed radar sound in a dinosaur rib.
We’d toss it back and forth for a thousand rounds
until the meat grew sticky and cold, until even darkness
was given an oval form, like the small wooden door
of a church or a mirror that tugged in the radiance
of a whole morning. I said the callus on my father’s finger
was an oval cocoon. He’d lay it on the softest spot
of his thumb, rubbing it back and forth as a myth
burst out: magma tumbling in a rock’s vein. On
grass wide like a cloak, cows kicked their hooves
with the power of gods. I remembered the callus
years later as I watched a soldier release the slide
of his gun in a residential building. All seared, de
-formed, except his hands, how easy they straddled
the hot iron flank, belted it with the thumb swiveling
smoothly over the trigger until they eased the welter
of a land. And I was back in that distant evening
when my father made the most furious world.
The sweat flickered in and out like black mud
as he bent his fingers and pushed a loud snap.
Being thunderstruck, I was convinced a sky would bleed
open in his palm, the way a reed bed lay bare to a spring.
Behind the stream with red rubbles is an abandoned field.
Every spring, my father rips the tall grass and makes mats
for newborn calves. Most will make their first weep
and kick in the bleary warm air of absence. When the pot
starts to quiver, he comes home with a heavy coat,
scrubbing the mud and strips of grass in his nails.
The simmering fire refills his fissures while he sits
and manicures. He’d spend hours smoothing the side
of his fingers, the lumps left by long-hour grippings.
I was conceived in an hour like that. Finally he told me.
He has stopped cutting his callus for years. Now it grows
saggy and yellow like the belly of an old firefly.
Sometimes, I stare at my writing hand
and see a sleek plain with brown antelopes.
How, if scraped by the thumb of God frequently enough,
it, too, could grow mountains and shades, could be
all bumpy and hard, like a bullet.

Shiyang Su

Shiyang Su is a Chinese poet. This poem is an excerpt from her in-progress collection concerning the struggle, agony, and loss in recent years, intensified by COVID and frequent social and political upheavals. Her other poems can be found or are forthcoming in San Pedro River Review, Blue Marble Review, Unbroken, Rattle, Passages North, and others. She was nominated for Best New Poets.

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