Rigorous
Volume Four, Issue 2



Joylyn Chai


Shooting Star

baptized before my last breath
i was carrying
ten thousand souls

hands lay upon me
my body relents
dissolving into grit

legs arms head steaming in a tub
muddy water
from a hot river

souls escape
looking for air
but find water and the tub

ordained fingers dip into
a shallow dish
stained pink with oil

touching my forehead
skin burns
blisters peel away

the last soul wrenches out of me
i become
a shooting star

where do stars go when they die?
we blaze across the sky
landing in tubs of dirty water

thickened by lost souls
souls that have been cleansed
but are of no use




Who Wants To Look At You Anyway?

                            I

he don’t wanna talk to nobody
she don’t wanna talk to nobody
they don’t wanna talk to nobody

crown princes, divas, sharks, snakes, queen bees, aces, bitches, thugs, hustlers, bookies,
brothers, sisters, soldiers, sweethearts, swingers, honeycakes, uncle jack an’ auntie mae

don’t wanna talk to nobody

lips movin’ but
mouths all sewn up
everybody’s low mumblin’
makin’ bones vibrate

throw ya hands up
shake ya angry fists
gestures don't make any sense
only makin’ nonsense



                            II

“Welcome,” ma mama says
“Welcome,” the big man says
“Behold! This is Babylon! This is The Power Tower!”
‘”Welcome,” we say, “and don’t forget to smile!”

a diamond pinnacle
reaches inside clouds
the last man up there
wore overalls, a hard hat, and a 3M mask
balancing on the tower’s tip
he nailed everybody’s personal complaints
under the floorboards of heaven



                            III

poor god
he heard no prayers
all that hammerin’ hollerin’
drillin’ sawin’
got him scared an’
he came to one conclusion:
everyone on earth’s
dead

he imagined butchery havoc torn flesh blood overflowin’ blood overflowin’ rivers oceans
he heard sawin’ hammerin’ imagined screamin’ torture sufferin’ an’ suffocation
imagined we polluted everythin’ with everythin’ his paradise on earth a stinkin’ mess



                            IV

I could not peek
Quivering fear
Cast out all curiosity

Booming bashing
Broken bodies
I would not bear witness

We dreamt of their destiny:
Man leading Woman Woman leading Man
To no man’s land then women dancing all over the graves


                            V

All we are doin’ down here is fixin’ fiddlin’ meddlin’ peddlin’ messin’ muckin’ fuckin’
Fakin’ shakin’ coughin’ sneezin’ keepin’ our distance keepin’ together stayin’ apart
So swollen is our corn so green is our sky so dirty is our water we cannot drink it
Yet we’re still buildin’ buildin’ open for business buildin’ power towers
Slidin’ each pane of glass in place slidin’ stackin’ swipin’ pressin’ selectin’
Searchin’ select search select search select lookin’ for the face of God but

He won’t even look at us




A Mother’s Love

I was born on a mountaintop
my mother was punished by the gods
twelve of them arguing over my paternity
irrational enraged violent

Except for one
who became a shadow
a translucent silhouette
flattened against angry sky

My mother knelt
begging them to stop
her fear perforated by fury
glowing like a burning fire

She lived for pleasure
her laughter orbiting stars
much more valuable
than mercy or pity

My mother’s tears
turned to mud
mud turned to clay
clay to slivered stones

Blood and stones
Ran down her cheeks
she cried for ten thousand years
then ten thousand more

Dawn came
distinction lost between
thoughts or sky
heaven unnoticeable

Ancient dancers
ask me if I am Ivy’s daughter
translucent skin melts off
thin limbs pooling at my blue feet

Who is Ivy?
She is my mother
I have forgotten
Who I am

A rowboat appears on the mountaintop
ferrying me to another world
real gods are replaced
with daydreams nightmares

The boat scrapes along
a perpendicular
unsteady journey
for a baby

Finally the gods fall asleep
my mother is encased
in the mountain of her tears
the mountain of my descent

Down below is noisy
no one hears gods singing
notices when they slouch about naked
when they send their daughters away

I am too shy to tell anyone what I know
too afraid of what anyone would do
if they discovered my mother
in the mountain

Still crying for me
blood stones blood
better to let her cry
than to be exhumed



Joylyn Chai: "I am a Chinese-Jamaican Canadian educator, artist, and aspiring writer. I have been invited to share her poetry as part of the Emerging Writers Reading Series in Toronto. Recently, during the COVID crisis, I read a selection of my favourite poems online for the Dead Poets Reading Series. I teach English to new immigrants and live with my husband and two daughters in Toronto."




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