Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Interrogation in the Museum of Many Hungers


I too have stood in a circle of light
like a peace offering from the seawater past
scratching the floor of the world.
After pink and yellow coral, the boats disappeared.
Bovine eyes filled with gold,
the gaping O’s witnesses become
among dry kisses of bougainvillea – the day
nobody walked to their death.


Some details are known, if irrelevant.
Marking tiny human rituals toward function and aesthetic.
For instance:
                    the beginning of the curl of your lip,
          the way you are given a woman’s waist.
Why am I in this air loud with hooves?
(In the mind of a city
where all the ovens work) – do you miss fingers like gems
          around your neck?


Between capture and reflection, the glass is thin.
Who knows what to do with things lifted
more tenderly than a child out of sea-
sadness, other than behold our trying
enameled on your body, the salted-flesh beneath
what glaze could be rescued.
The photographs we take: those rooms of forgetting.


And what can a child tell us about the dark
other than who lives in it?
Hallways are well-lit in the palaces of narrative – eventually
the ringing of our feet drowns in tropical carpets,
just through those gilded doors,
in the age of steel and reason.
That is where I come from,
                    and this procession of mirrors,
and the doves
                    with their olive branches made in Bangladesh.



and the spell is broken and is an artifact after all kinship and this message is expert and once
purified is your personal time machine medicine or just fashionable when hungry
like worms under the nails of Pramoedya who committed the burning
spines of books and everything in between to memory only
to find they were not where his seeing or faith
lived or the vengeance on the docks
the eggs of the eel the gathering
and this failing to hold


To the past I offer what I can: a noun, a half-
                    turned mask.
There was a balcony I was not permitted
to view the city from, a sky
I whorled into an ear.
In those days, I was perfectly designed.
The God to whom I prayed
was not a jar, and the backs of vermin gleamed
                    like galaxies. Sometimes I miss
                    how warm it was, swaddled
in shame and marrow-meat.



That my child’s shadow may lengthen.
That causation is banished and love is victorious.
That no water is holier than the lungs it occupies
like annotations. On the stage
of light, the clay of our hands stutter. That after
rain and pestilence, a low blue light
in the structure emptied of horses – your mouth
tipped to another, filling with grain.

Cynthia Dewi Oka is a poet and author of Nomad of Salt and Hard Water (Thread Makes Blanket, 2016). A 2017 and 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee, her poems have appeared in Guernica, The Massachusetts Review, Meridian, Black Renaissance Noire, Painted Bride Quarterly, Kweli Journal, and others. She is a contributor the anthologies Read Women (Locked Horn Press, 2014), Dismantle (Thread Makes Blanket, 2014), and Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines (PM Press, 2016). Cynthia has been awarded the Fifth Wednesday Journal Editor’s Prize in Poetry, the Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant, and scholarships from the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) Writing Workshop and the Vermont Studio Center. Originally from Bali, Indonesia, she is the creator of Sanctuary: A Migrant Poetry Workshop for immigrant poets in Philadelphia. Her second book of poems, Salvage, will be available in 2017 from Northwestern University Press.