Spring 2024

Ghost Stories (I)

by Spencer Chang

after 228 Incident, Taiwan

my dear Li       are you safe   it’s been               years   do you still keep    

our portrait by the bed       on good nights      moonlight spills through 

the barred window    barely enough    to lap up from the floor    to see 

myself    bared-teeth & snarling    on this steel bench         a slit the width 

of a shut eye    cut into the door a tray passed through     hollowed 

then pushed back    months ago a roach passed     beneath this door completely 

unaware        grain by grain        my trail of rice     I led him close & tried 

to pocket him only to feel wings      crackle in my fist       breathless 

three days      I didn’t eat but scattered      moldy bread crumbs praying come 

back come back come back    some nights I imagine myself lifted       like a gun 

shot    powder igniting over me      & it’s all silent again         cigar smoke 

drifts through     I hear fire    swallowing the old streets    a truck slamming 

into the crowd without a quiver    a man kneeling on asphalt crawling    like a tiny insect     

like a prayer    it repeats & repeats    but sometimes    if I’m quiet enough 

the world goes still      & it’s all fall again    the tung tree outside undressing 

as a petal    the white of your dress    pirouettes in     undress & redress I’m still 

the same & graceless counting seconds     to the slow trickle of sweat I spit 

chewed apple pits    all tender & fallow    into the floor I claw    the concrete just to feel 

something alive in these hands    when I shudder awake          your face shadows 

the moon    I can’t recognize you anymore—   O Li      I can only imagine chasing 

a rabbit through     darkened meadows clinging until it squirms     & slips 

back into the earth I spend nights pressing my ears to        these walls searching 

for a pulse     skin close    I could almost pass through to find you asleep 

in a burning temple

Ghost Stories (II)

for Vincent Chin

& they bury their hammers into the cold machine
like gavels. another hit caves its teeth, lifts
its jaw & black oil brims out. for criminals
like these, they say justice. hunched close beneath the streetlight’s
drone, they raise their hammers, chant this is our country
& the TV switches—a reporter suited in blue says good

morning America & I profess to be good
citizen, twist my jaw like a machine
around the Os & call this country
home. leaving for groceries, I saw them lifting
flags up their front gates. I avoid streetlights,
pray my shadow won’t be mistaken for a criminal’s.

but I, refusing to speak my prayers in English, I, criminal,
I, on the streets licking shrines with my dirty tongue, I, good
beggar bad immigrant, I, smothered by the streetlights—
I fold my arms, announce myself a drowning machine,
mouth crushed & reassembled a silver ring. I only lift
my hands up, palms outwards, when a man asks what country

I’m really from, I say our country & he says my country
it’s Friday night & I mistake my reflection for criminal
again, my tattered jacket fuming with sulfur. still, I lift
my right hand & practice my oaths. good
subject, loyal soldier, obedient worker, open machine,
let you tinker with my ribs under streetlights

& you, gilded like a lost savior, make streetlights
of my eyes. I reach for all the windows, but find a country
of mirrors. a gunshot in low frequencies, their machine
hands pointing everywhere, someone needs to be the criminal
a boy mistakes my prayer for begging & says no good
in saving a broken thing
.        two men lift

their baseball bats & splinter the moon. their cuffs lifted
for cracking a skull, smoke turned halos under streetlights.
they dress blood in snow, kiss the dirt, call themselves the good
I can never be, my body turned an open country.
O, dim my mouth, make me faceless, strip the criminal
from me—.        at the ceremony, I machine

my hands. I play good. we all pledge. they lift
flags. mouthless machine. dead machine. the streetlights more
alive than ever in this country—where anything that moves is a criminal.

Spencer Chang is a high school senior from Taipei, Taiwan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in diode poetry journal, RABBIT, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere. He is a 2021 YoungArts Finalist in Poetry, and his work has been recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Spring 2024