Drawing of a Skeleton

He sleeps with the lights on. Night
comes for him
playing a stringless harp.

Branches snap—
the wind licks its broken fingers.


After a night of rain, he wakes
paralyzed—his jaw
clenched, his hands, two dark prison cells
filled with gunfire.


I learn how to pronounce his name,
how to say nothing to him
with my eyes.

He ties ropes around my wrists,
blindfolds me.
Do not be fooled, he says,

the darkness reminds us
what we cannot forget.


He moves my hand
to the left, moves my foot
to the right.


Pain is nothing but the reflection of a man’s weakness.

He once told me that 
through a locked door.


There are birds
in his cages. Untethered.

Winters, he sprinkles birdseed
on the snow outside the bars—
the door wide open.

Their tracks in the snow, sheet music—

a symphony of quiet lies.


Let’s say, I was his.

Let’s say, he had me.

Is it true that we are perfect
only once, like a poem?


In America, a promoter paid him five-hundred dollars 
to kill a bull with his bare hands. They fought

in a dirt stadium—the dust billowing
from their feet like buried stars.


He tells me every story twice.

In Japan, a rancher paid him seven hundred dollars to wrestle his bull.

After thirty minutes he burst through the wooden gate, weeping,
cursing the dead in his mother tongue.

Simon Shieh is a poet, essayist, and educator living in Beijing. A lifelong martial artist, Simon competed in his first professional Muay Thai fight at seventeen years old in Shanghai. The day before he turned twenty-one, Simon suffered his first and only loss by knockout in Brazil. Soon after, he turned away from fighting and found poetry. The work of Jericho Brown, Eduardo Corral, Louise Glück, Terrance Hayes, Ocean Vuong, Lucie Brock-Broido, and many others opened the doors for his poems.