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By the Numbers

January. Calculable velocity of 1
regional jet crossing the sudden
starless 40 miles west of Detroit
1400 miles north of you with 12
exotic birds in the cargo hold.
On the starboard side a dry full moon
20,000 ft. above Lake Michigan. Here
it is permissible to wonder
Color? Species? Country of origin?
It is permissible to think call me
no don’t. Tiny doubts please
touch down and warm Diet Coke
in the seat-back pocket. Last night
licking the bars of our separate cages
we watched each other watching
the diminishing salt of hours.
Touch down mi amor definintiva
you said déjame a year no more  
then we’ll live together.
Here it is permissible to laugh 
at the promises one lets sit
on the black tongue of the wing.
Everything in the off position now.
Here it is permissible to believe 
the 12 birds existed
because the flight attendant
told us they were cold.


Year of the Snake
Songyuan, China

I will give you the sneakiest 
part of the darkness.
In a disappearing village
migrant workers compete
to construct the tallest house.
False upper floors are not
uncommon. At the gates
the foreigner encounters
a mirage of empty churches
                        and crosses herself
                        out of habit.

The ones who stayed
carve ice sculptures
of Shakespearean characters
for the Spring Festival. 
The people it seems
prefer tragedies. Also
pastoral scenes from
the Gulag Archipelago
in honor of Russian Tourism Year.
                        Romeo could be
                        a fish and Juliet
                        a net while Stalin
                        could be Stalin.

I will give you the ugly pieties.
It was not always bad
                        to be a concubine. 
There were banquets and fighting
crickets and mirrors to frighten
                        the ghosts of dead wives.
When I was lost in Songyuan
a man whistled in my face
                        and called me west-ocean devil.
His friend laughed and spit
on the sidewalk. When the Qing
                        emperors took their concubines
winter fishing on Chagan Lake carp 
leaped through meter-thick holes
                        in the ice and the character
for temple appeared on the most
fertile woman’s forehead.
                        According to the 24 Paragons
of Filial Piety a son will lie across
a frozen lake to catch a fish for his ailing
                        mother. We must consider
culture and structure as partial
hegemonies. White is the color
                        of marriage or mourning. 
Hundreds of thrashing carp
are not asexual. When I bit
                        my own finger on a street
in Songyuan wives leaped onto
the pavement and a Starbucks
                        appeared on the horizon.

It is late then early.
Late then early. How I
age inventing stories!
Genetically modified
snakes bred in Taiwan
for pure whiteness
are believed to make
the year more auspicious.

What if I tell you
the most important character
is an empty house?  


Kara Candito is the author of Taste of Cherry, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize (University of Nebraska Press, 2009). Her work has been published in AGNIBlackbirdThe Kenyon ReviewDiodeThe Rumpus, and elsewhere. A recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, and the MacDowell Colony, Candito is a creative writing professor at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville and a co-curator of the Monsters of Poetry Reading Series in Madison, Wisconsin.  See www.karacandito.com.