Table of Contents

 

BARDO BABY

Adrienne Chung

 

I've talked to trees, had long-winded conversations about thrownness with Japanese maples,
talked to redwoods about hydration, macronutrients, love languages, relatives down South, how                 
             some trees miss me when I'm gone and
             some trees shiver like a spineless creature, dickmatized, and
             some trees glitter in the dark, leaves like gold sequins, silver sequins, red sequins, orange sequins     

Once I swiped left on a man who wrote I love rollercoaster, fresh-squished orange juice
I was youngish then, eyes unopened to the world's hidden glam
Eight years later I lie in bed fantasizing about what he didn't list,
             how he likes his martini, his handjob, his pizza, the permutation of his linens,
             how he'd misspell strudel, Nietzsche, Mississippi, Klingon, onomatopoeia,
             how he might have loved me but

It was more difficult that year to hear I love you than to say it, words kneading
like the angry knobs of my grandmother's massage chair where she sat every night, upright
as the handsome older woman that I cannot stop myself from becoming

It isn't that I'm mad about being flat-chested, more like gracefully annoyed
with the procedure of mammograms, my small breasts flattened like paninis every January,
the technician groping my chest with the torque of a bleary-eyed, open-mouthed lover who rolls over
after the small fireworks of anonymous sex while at night I dream on Egyptian cotton
of dead elephants suspended like dried flowers from the ceiling of my mother's bedroom

My Jungian analyst says that a part of my heart is dead and this hurts me
I conjure a colorless sky and this calms me until I look out the window
where a blue curtain hangs spherical from the firmament
             Why am I still scared of demons and loud noises, of my reflection in the mirror?
             Why am I every age at once, each part of my body frozen in a different time?
                            Babyface, grandma hands, toddler butt, teenie tits

I didn't know that my mother had 36DDs when I sat alone in the waiting room
popping reams of bubblewrap while a radiation machine zapped her breasts
That year I was six and loved dolls with a selfless desire,
             the way dogs love humans, unconditionally and without interiority
             the way I loved my mother, unconditonally and without interiority

She tried to lose me but each time I found her
One second I was fingering the hairy back of a peach and the next she was gone,
the cloud of her absence a ghostly imprint between the jars of soy sauce and peanut oil,
the branded void into which my heart would drop when I realized she was gone
Each time I was ready to end my little life, to follow her into whatever darkness of her condemnation

The first time I heard my mother called a psychopath was like a hit of cocaine, a flash of white,
a reel of film where every character from every life I've ever lived
rushes back into the brain, packing the red carpet of memory's ballroom into which I emerge,
a debutante, twirling down the coiled staircase with the garish ceremony of childbirth
             Hello! Here I am!  I say, my teeth smeared with the lurid pink lipstick of 1985

I was born in November, a Valentine's baby, Scorpio monstrosity,
Chinese fingertrap, overweight first-born, hirsute mandarin,
small-mouthed delicacy, Hunan princess, sentient Bratz doll,
boba dowager, purebred powerbottom, moonfaced cowgirl,
             doomed to lie, doomed to cheat,
             doomed to steal, doomed to die

I think I'm in love again with the only man who ever loved me
He was named for a saint, first of the apostles
I couldn't imagine ever loving him again but suddenly I found God and in Him I saw something,
             something old, something new, something borrowed,
             something—

Once, under a bright blue sky, she left me
I counted gummy bears in the clouds, sang Disney songs to myself
until the white stitch screeched and pulled apart, begat a bloodied black dome, pulsing
I cried to the trees but they couldn't help me so I sang to the trees but they couldn't hear me,
the straps of the carseat sustaining my little body like the tubes of a ventillator

Does something remain ill-fated if it has already met its fate?
Does the sickness abandon course or does it live on like a phantom limb, atmospheric,
like a virus on a ghost ship where immortality is less a paradise than a human zoo

Again I wake up as if there were no possibility of dying
Again I scroll through political news in bed, open my email where still shelved beneath his name
            in Gchat are his final words:        I can't sleep
Again I dress myself, feed myself, carve sex appeal into my face so that when a beautiful man looks at me, my skull floods with the histrionic strings of Vivaldi like a drug yet
                      still I'm afraid of looking behind me 
                      still I'm afraid of closing my eyes
                      still I'm afraid of the past, present, and future, but
                             
She was always there
             a hundred times
I was ready to die
             a thousand times
Each time she saved me
             a baker's dozen million times

An angel, ghostlit fantasy, appearing in the final dark.

 

 

 

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I first encountered the concept of the bardo in a History Channel documentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I was ten years old. The program was filmed in a style unique to 90s cable television, where interviews with experts in aviator-frame glasses are interspersed with dramatic historical reenactments, sepia-tinted and motion-blurred. It was harrowing and fantasticalone of the greatest viewing experiences of my young lifeand never to be experienced again in a pre-internet age. The live-action hellscapes lived only in my memory. Twenty years later, I [found it again] through a cursory google search. This time, the various hells appeared retrospectively comic, undeniably camp. Most of all, they felt strangely familiar, as though the chapters of waking life are but one bardo after another.