parallax background

and Other Poems


Paula Mendoza

Art by Shirin Rafie

Paula Mendoza will read with Amanda Lee Koe at the 2020 Singapore Lit Fest event “Celebrity and Celebration,” on Friday, October 2, 2020, 9:30-10:30 pm (EST). RSVP for Zoom link.



I took it apart.

When it was whole,
it wasn’t right.

Gaps everywhere, nothing
locked into place.

I laid out each piece
on the floor
in order of how they felt
in my hand—

their weight, roughness,
and what I imagined they did
when once they held together.


must have grinded all the rest
forward, I think,

as I set a gear down,
third in line.

I don’t know what to do
with any of them.

It is morning and still cold
when I walk outside
with what, inside my fist,

feels smoothest, heaviest—

and knock something living
out of a tree.

It made a sound,
softer than I would have
figured a small, furred body

falling into dirt might make.

Whole, it wasn’t right.

Apart, lined up against each other,
they were near enough good.

I left the body
to be eaten by the stray we named.

Inside lay more pieces
to find.

For each, some better use.


Behind the Shelf

The tall man fills receptacles with substances that resemble you, that is, substances of you, and you grow certain that they are you: carved atria, swatches of thigh, hinges of knuckle and elbow and knee. There are vials of every convolution, sops of greymeat, each pit and furrow of memory. And blood. Mostly there’s blood. Your blood is catalogued by the breath that shimmered or seethed, by what press of flesh effervesced these shining viscosities, all who thickened or thinned that crimson, as in, this specimen is the first time you fell in love. This, when you hated your mother. Here, held an infant. Here, tried to kill yourself. There are many containers. The taxonomy does not arouse terror, you are not afraid for the pulp of you to be archived or articulated this way. Still, an arctic terror rises and sours in back of a throat. The terror derives from the tall man. The tall man is not god but he is a conjecture made up of god. He is a radiant speculation accumulated from god-like detritus. He is nothing, like a god. I am afraid, you call out. Glass swallows every syllable. You call out. Your tongue, a fat slug, glints in the dirtiest jar on the farthest shelf, and your eyes, in the cleanest, look on.


Narrative Poem

I want to go back in time but not like inside a plot where the heroine is triggered by the sight of a blue coat and the killer’s face draws out of shadow so everyone knows it was him all along. How her vision dissolves backwards, periphery narrowing its aperture to sketch in the folds, the gestures, the damning scene. There needn’t be a body, no chambers emptied of shells, no curl of smoke or blood snaking under the door. No one ever has to leave and refuse to turn around while someone else stands in the rain and watches them walk away. I don’t want to go back in time to cohere or arc elsewise. What I have in mind’s in mind, like in that film where the lovers consent to the removal of all neural trace of their love, effectively rendering each other as never having happened. A future-perfect tense as preventive procedure. I will not have known you. So, not like entering into then with now’s dimension-crossing machine, where one navigates knots in the endless rope of time, all of which mistakes sequence for story. As if one ever had to do with the other. No, I mean—a cautery. A burning I can hold in hand and sear what’s past, your face briefly aglow then dark, the nerve’s path scarred over.


“Engineer,” “Behind the Shelf,” and “Narrative Poem” are taken from Play for Time by Paula Mendoza (Gaudy Boy, 2020). Reprinted by permission from publisher.

Singapore Unbound, an NYC-based literary non-profit, is holding its 4th Singapore Literature Festival from October 1-3, 2020. To be held online for the first time, this independent, biennial festival brings together Singaporean and American authors and audiences for lively conversations about literature and society. All events are free and open to everyone. The theme of this year's festival is "The Politics of Hope." Check the website for the full festival program.