Flowers of Shanghai

after the film by Hou Hsiao-hsien

In the Boston Common I take a bag of popcorn,
sit near the playground on benches with the homeless,
the chill of an August afternoon feeling good on the bones,
and I rub my face with the edge of my sweater the way
a puppy would use its fuzzy paw, remembering
my mama’s words about playing with puppies,
they will lick you in the face
and she said as if to warn me, but it would take years
to believe I had a right to protect myself or understand
what a puppy needs, and I stiffen a bit against a
flash of a moment where I am being raped, and it
feels as if the wind has been torn out of its geography,
or the grass pulled up and planted again with its
roots growing to the sun, as if roots can feed on light,
and the world knows how to fix the undone things
we are…
at home again
I watch these women in Shanghai’s old brothels
and know what it is to give up the rights to one’s own
body when the body does not know it has rights.

Afaa Michael Weaver is the author of 14 collections of poetry, including The Government of Nature, which won the 2014 Kingsley Tufts award. A former Fulbright Scholar and the recipient of fellowships from both the NEA and Pew Charitable Trusts, he serves as Alumnae Professor of English at Simmons College in Boston.