Arlene Ang

To Wake Up, First You Must Go to Sleep


Haul yourself to bed and enter the darkness. Open your eyes. Summon the sidewalk using straight brushstrokes. Plant your feet on the ground and focus on the buildings, the passersby, the drizzle that leaves needlelike slashes on your clothes. There are countless ways

to wake up

once you’re dead. Today the journey begins at a red light. From across the street, your father is feeding pigeons on the hood of a red car. His face is constantly changing, the skin rippling like water. He’s been living inside your sister for ten years. Now she carries you both in her thoughts while she talks to the dog that survived you.

First, you must

shoulder the anger she feels. She needs it to live by. A wheelchair of sorts that allows her to move around after losing both limbs in a fire. Second, understand that while you exist inside different people at the same time and can travel from one mind to another, you have little control over what happens to you. When they

go to sleep,

you awaken with them. Sometimes it is like you never left—the dinners, the conversations, the road trips. Sometimes they see you dead or dying all over again in their arms. No matter how many times you want to leave, you can’t. There is nowhere else to go.





Years after we buried my father,
the upstairs bathroom still belongs to him.

The seashells in a jar, the aftershave,
the weighing scale remain where he left them.

My mother could never to let go.
The shampoo he gave her for Christmas
stands unopened on a shelf.

And now it’s expired. You should use it,
she says, while you still can. 

She’s in the next room without her hair,
reading a book on drinking urine because to cure itself,

the self must first return to the body.

I stand outside the tub without undressing
and unhook the shower head.

Even as I tip my head and watch water
circle around the drain, I listen for my mother’s voice
in case she needs me or wakes up for the last time.

The shampoo smells stale, suffocated,
and releases a cool ooze on my palm.

Like a gravestone, the label says Rose and Vetiver.
Only the names are left. No warnings. No best before.




Walking to School


The summer
they gunned down a bank robber
outside our home,
it never rained enough.
The shots were deafening,
but quickly over.

Only the blood on the asphalt lingered,
leaking into our driveway.
Every morning
my mother dragged me
over the stain. I grew smaller
into the hand
that gripped my fingers.

In class
I drew bullet holes
until the paper tore under the force
of the pen. The robbery
never made the news.
I started watching TV
with the volume turned off.

At night
I studied the soles of my shoes
for blood, but never
found any. I couldn’t picture
the dead man’s face,
only my mother’s.

She stopped talking
about my father who never came home.
I had nightmares.
She made me sleep
with a toy gun under my pillow.
That same year she stopped saying
she loved me.




Arlene Ang’s latest poetry collection, Banned for Life was published by Misty Publications in 2014. Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Caketrain, Diagram, Poetry Ireland, Poet Lore, Rattle, Salt Hill as well as the Best of the Web anthologies 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books). She lives in Spinea, Italy. Website:

3 thoughts on “Arlene Ang

  1. Such powerful, beautiful words, Arlene. I’m very proud to have been included in the same publication that publishes your work! Thank you for these – they are wonderful! Sally Stevens


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