Rhapsody by the Feminist Narwhal of Retribution and Tuvan Women Sing by Karen An-hwei Lee


Rhapsody by the Feminist Narwhal of Retribution
Karen An-hwei Lee

Yesterday, I vowed to sing about horses of vengeance,
but discovered a rhapsody already exists,

so today, I decide to metamorphose into a young narwhal
spearing fragrant gardenia bowls at the market,

overturning lavender and raw honey stalls
run by my seventy year-old aunt. In Seattle, you see,

my beautiful divorced aunt weeps alone in her dayroom
\until the salt tears on First Avenue

draw miniature sharks from the ocean. I harpoon
the sharks one by one.

I promise to avenge my betrayed aunt
in my role as a loyal narwhal niece.

As she cries, my ex-husband destroyed our marriage,
I impale my spiral upon her enemies.

You are not a feminist narwhal, says my aunt.
You cannot avenge all the men who broke my heart.

Sharks no larger than spoons or red blossoms lie on her rugs,
bleeding, so I flay them into tiny steaks.

My bereaved aunt asks me to go.
Every time you visit, you swim in from nowhere,

upset the public market and attract all the sharks.
No, I say. No. I attack. I attack the sharks

swimming to you in sly suits of slate-blue skin.


Tuvan Women Sing

On the tundra, Tuvan men
sing khoomei

on horses, laughing.

A girl says, I’ll compose
my own horse-song.

My ezeŋgiler praises
a woman’s virtues

while she rides, not her body

or obeisance to men.
Under a light sky ak kök

my bass fundamentals
are thunder,

diŋmireeškin.

My horse flows
like running water, akkan sug.

Listen dyŋnaalaar
at dawn –

milk curds in a rising sun:

thunder in our sky
of horse blood, hull of a world

in a tea bowl drumming
with petals of čaaškyn rain,

a black-eyed foal
blessing

the pain of bee stings.

Little čaaškyn rains soothe
the first summer uurak, süt aazy

word-rhythms for rain,
rain and bees, stings and rain
my own khoomei.

NOTES: Glossary of Tuvan Words
Thanks to the on-line talking Tuvan Dictionary at Swarthmore College.

uurak, süt aazy n. bee stings
ajak n. tea bowl
khavyktaar v. hull, skin, shell
khoomei n. harmonic overtones
ak kök a. sky-blue, light blue
diŋmireeškin n. thunder
khan n. blood
akkan sug n. running water
dyŋnaalaar v. listen
čaaškyn n. rain (diminutive)


Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. Lee also wrote two chapbooks, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe 2002) and What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press 2014). Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria, 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she serves as Full Professor of English and Chair at a small liberal arts college in greater Los Angeles, where she is also a novice harpist. Lee is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

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