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Wendy Chen


Madame Butterfly doesn’t know why
she wakes this way.

By now, half
her body

is grafted
with silk,

each thread
a ligature.

Madame Butterfly should be pleased
with the work,

but her face
is growing paler

and paler.
Soon, it will be

pale and flat
as the moon.

Lunar beauty.

Madame Butterfly should be

that others
find her pleasing.

Madame Butterfly is

She was made
to please.

Her natural lifespan is spent

among the cherry trees,
kneeling down in snow.

Madame Butterfly knows
her body

is a doorway.
A moon gate.

A trail
of white jasmine.

Bound by her dark

she blinks her one
remaining eye.

The Encounter

She is not a body,
not at all.

Just a doorway.

If you raise her face
to yours,

you can see through,

And just beyond—

fragrant twists of smoke and
placid thighs.

This red blossom
is her mouth.

It only speaks
your name.

You know yourself
against her.

Your male,

thrown into relief.

Whole, at last,
and prime.

You leave her

Draw over
her dead body a silk curtain

embroidered with smiling cranes.

Madame Butterfly at the Auction House

Here is her torso.

It opens up
like a refrigerator.


see how neatly her organs are arranged
on built-in plastic shelving.

Her real mouth also is here.

We sealed it away, in a deep jar.

It was ugly. A coiling proboscis
in the brine.


at all like her slender,
chambered heart,
which is industrial red,
auto gloss,

the size of a toy
in your hand.

If you knock it
against table legs, stair landings—

If you give it to your children
to play with—

it will light up
like a wand.

In Which I am Afflicted with Mme. Butterfly

If only it were so easy
to root her out

like a bit of decay in the heart
of a molar.

But no, I feel her pulsing
in the crook

of my elbow:
a worm in the blood.

It was always easier

to take her
into me:

her passivity, her silence
into mine.

I have grown up
with her inside me:

then larger.

Now, we are
cheek to cheek,

her mouth
to mine.

No way to cut her out,
pull her out

through my throat.
If I could, I would

part us
piece by piece:

wing from shoulder,
proboscis from tongue.

Lay the two of us out
on a table: Madame Butterfly

and I.

Wendy Chen
is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Most Promising Young Poet Prize, and fellowships from the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her work has been accepted in numerous publications such as Crazyhorse, Rattle, American Poets, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her first book, Unearthings, is forthcoming from Tavern Press in January 2018. She earned her MFA in poetry from Syracuse University.