in the wet dark of the night, just before her fifth birthday,
a girl wakes to find herself drowning,
ankle-deep in a stew of raw herbs and the blood of feral animals
with her limbs bound to the legs of a wooden chair.
minutes later, her sharp scream pierces the
february air. she meets the serpentine eyes
of a woman, whose name she does not know;
the woman pulses her thumbs into the girl’s feet, and
jerks and yanks and twists
as if her flesh is the balled pulp of a wonton.
do not resist it, dear.
she is the twentieth girl that the woman has sculpted,
and the woman no longer hears the cries for mercy.
your feet will blossom into
the golden lotuses dotting the Yangtze,
and rich men will melt and sink to your feet,
wooing; then, you will forget all about this,
this fleeting pain.
the woman braces her toes with her parched hands and
rips tendon from bone as she curves in the swollen folds of each toe,
birthing four crisp snaps and four desperate prayers
into the cool air.
the girl feels the rage and fear in the blood of her marrow
simmering, boiling within;
but she is powerless to stop the woman,
as she stains her with
black and fuchsia and blue.
as she fractures her arch in two,
and as she mutates her crushed toes, pressing them deeper and deeper
into the sharp splinters of her heel;
swollen carnage against shards of howling glass.
as she snakes her hand through thick bandages
saturated with the juices of astragalus and
suffocates out all remaining life the girl’s feet breaths.
decades after the nameless woman left her
sculpted and blooming
salty tears still run down the girl’s round cheeks and
join the stinging blood from her bitten lips
to become one with the violent red,
seeping through her bandages.
on sunday night
i rest my feet against the red skin of nai nai’s palms
as she bathes the balmy, peach-bottomed skin of my feet
in honeyed water,
weaving the warm river through the crevices between my toes—
in and out,
under and over.
nai nai cradles my feet as she
traces constellations onto the folds of my skin
and tickles the underbelly of my arch.
she kisses my feet four times each,
four for each caressed toe.