by Johnny Payne

The East wind sighs, fresh rains come.
Beyond the pool of water lilies, the noise of faint thunder.
In a karaoke room, digital neon sylphs flicker onscreen, as if
to recreate a bad acid trip through Chinese opera.
When my scantily clad hostess’s eye gets distracted by a single
shining noodle out of place on the still life buffet on the low teak
table, I slip out, knowing I’m not up to the demands
of polite debauchery. Outside, water descends in such quick sheets
among endless ferns that I don’t know whether I’m standing
under a waterfall or at curbside, waiting for a taxi. I don’t deserve
to smell of honeysuckle blossoms, yet I do. Li-Chan Yin tells me
never to let my heart open with the spring flowers, because
one inch of love is an inch of ashes. But I was born in ashes
so from the first day of my cursed life love was there for the taking.

Johnny Payne is the Director of the MFA in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. His most recent book of poetry is Vassal.