‘Life Raft/Casket’, Third Place in Poetry

Life Raft/Casket

by Angela Wei


The first time I saw my mother cry 

she was a life raft slash casket, 

running her hands through her graying hair,  

counting out the ashes of my father’s cigarette.  

She cries like me, all snot, sniffling, all tissues and wet snow,  

with tears carving ski-tracks down her face. 

She said, I am full of regret, 

and that was the moment I knew that even life rafts sink 

when they are full of water, or bodies, 

or bodies of water, 

the way a rubber duck drowns in a bathtub. 


She had carried the dead weight of love 

long before I was an infant floating in her belly. 

She had picked up its corpse by the road 

the road that runs its fingers down the marbled back of Minnesota,  

all the way down to the sea. 

With her tears, she unburied this corpse for me,  

from the wooden hollow of her chest, 

to say, This was us, this was the man I loved,  

with a knife of a mouth and honeydew eyes  

until he too became angry. 


Love, when I was six, I did your autopsy,  

scalpel in one hand and Legos in the other,  

and gave my diagnosis: 

If the weapon wasn’t the scream, it was the slap.  

If it wasn’t the slap, the glass, 

sewn to the wedding gown like perfect grapes. 

Wine was the only drink my father would touch, the pig. 

At least we’ve always made fine money. 


But what does money do for exit wounds,  

for the door shutting behind my father  

when he leaves for the night? 

What does money do for my mother,  

armed to the teeth with resentment,  

teaching me the “ten ways to hide a body”  

like God herself? 

And from her, I have learned to hope  

tentatively. To think in tantrums and silence.  

That day, we bobbed across the ocean together,  

my bedroom tipping into the dark. 

I clutched at her. We sank.