94: Anna May Wong on Silent Films

April 4, 2019 · 5:00
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Anna May Wong on Silent Films
by Sally Wen Mao

It is natural to live in an era
        when no one uttered⏤
and silence was glamour

so I could cast one glance westward
        and you’d know what I was
going to kill. Murder in my gaze,

treachery in my movements:
        if I bared the grooves
in my spine, made my lust known,

the reel would remind me
        that someone with my face
could never be loved.

How did you expect my characters
        to react? In so many shoots,
I was brandishing a dagger.

The narrative was enchanting
        enough to make me believe
I, too, could live in a white

palace, smell the odorless gardens,
        relieve myself on their white
petals. To be a star in Sun City⏤

to be first lady on the celluloid
        screen⏤I had to marry
my own cinematic death.

I never wept audibly⏤I saw my
        sisters in the sawmills,
reminded myself of my good luck.

Even the muzzle over my mouth
        could not kill me, though I
never slept soundly through the silence.
 
 
 
 

"Anna May Wong on Silent Films," from OCULUS by Sally Wen Mao. Copyright © 2019 by Sally Wen Mao. Used by Graywolf Press.