David Perry lives in Shanghai, where he teaches in the Writing Program at NYU Shanghai. He is the author of two books of poems, Expat Taxes (Seaweed Salad/French [Concession] Press]) and Range Finder (Adventures in Poetry), and two chapbooks, Knowledge Follows (Insurance Editions) and New Years (Braincase Books). He holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa. More at davidfperry.com.

The poems here are from Expat Taxes, which David will read from and discuss on April 22, 7pm at Madam Mao’s Dowry, (207 Fumin Lu/Changle Lu – details here.)

Sea Lyric

for and after Lisa Jarnot

I am a green FOTON dump truck heaped with delta soil
cut from the alluvial plain buoying up Shaanxi Nan Lu
on a Thursday evening buying Sichuan pepper peanuts
and two tall Super “Dry” Asahi silver cans. “KARAKUCHI.”
I am APAC and graying temples in Uniqlo Heattech™
raw cashews and roasted pumpkin seeds shrunk-wrapped
in celadon flex-Styrofoam beds with the smell of lice shampoo
in the makeshift bathroom of the makeshift half Deco house
made & shifted before the war and after, wafting in with flower
markets blooming round and all the people feeling capital
the traffic lights through warped French windows counting
down, a bird today, it’s possible, in a cage singing, talking,
joking with old men smoking, I am on the Metro headed
home from Shanghai’s transit well, the old railway station, I am
stuck in traffic near the mudflats by the river, I am yet
however still, tattooless, in fleece, and feeling newly brave

Previously published online and in print in The Brooklyn Rail


The Broken Pole

Age-old methods gull new angles, dropping air
under which we slip like ants in sand
bank lobby abstract at the back of the plane (Shanghai Air)
spit on the tarmac receding

And on the screen the waitress dishes
mash notes, the abstract’s defaced, hitchhikers
rip the car door off again and again, a maintenance man
flips sealant onto passersby and imperial power
is instantiated in orange glazed vessels
the potter’s daughter throws herself in the fire
fire burns in the engines
the engines pass us through air as we learn of the bell
the bellmaker’s daughter throws herself in the fire
the bell thereby successfully forged
father and son saved
daughter singing in the engines


Above the Waves

Late Cold War-era life preserver
Fresh tongue depressor, please
Black cracked leather band found digging cat’s grave
Tin tub dub reverb pebble down corrugated galvanized pipe
Generator motor oil pools in outdoor lathe shade
Bamboo scaffolding and waffled concrete walk
Imperative forms tomorrow, infinitive today
Cucumber light flat on our pants
Mistake to worry grammar
Ladder feet in hair tufts downwind from curbside barber chair


The Ape

It’s like this
but only for a second, rough
equivalence between said
and unsaid

She woke up with bits
of fuzz in her bangs

Now to walk is just enough
Flat screens, steam tables, particle board,
industrial glue, hexagonal pavers (rust
bone and celadon), pork belly futures
feline leukemia

The art we hope to post as notes.  Plaster
words in the mouth of the moment.

Why not jump in the ocean?  The answer

buzz fangs


Everybody acts like A. fell out of the sky, walked
on water a while, fell back in, picked a wet smoke
from his shirt pocket, pulled out a dripping
Bic, flicked and lit, inhaled, exhaled a stream
of gold, violet, crimson and lemon petals
that settled on the sand under the waves, raising
new land, umber and sienna and ocher (a scene on silk).

And a character who comes and goes at will—
opens the book, closes it
and we appear, disappear

I say look, the ape is weak
virtually non-existent; it does not
exist independently of us, besides


A journey of reclamation peaches
A whole note interpolated in a five-measure rest
The danger over
Always a hint of sewage
Green hatchery shirt, surplus binoculars
Burred purple and red lint
Hold hands and drop!


Thicker points than thought
a whole new island of the lost
to be found without

Dangle of furs and pelts
roots uprooted and bodies
slung from guywire


Night: tightrope, the peer
ball, an oily pool with green
interlinear highlighter notes scrawled

lines opening like an off
zipper with threads in its teeth


“Above the Waves”, “The Broken Pole”, and “The Ape” were previously published in Sal Mimeo.