Shiaw-Tian Liaw

Shiaw-Tian Liaw lives in Whittier, California, keeps books and mentors high school students and young adults. He has an MFA degree in poetry from UC Irvine, and has been published in Harvard Review, Zócalo Public Square, The Curator, and Witness.



I wake up that morning and say to her, “I never loved you.” This is so she’ll hate me and revise our six months as lies: every instance I’d said I loved her would be like crumbs or lice she’d comb out of my hair. If she disbelieves me, it’d be because she wanted it another way, not that it was untrue. She’d be a buoy. No, a seagull on a buoy.


I wake up that morning and say to her, “I don’t love you anymore.” I can’t explain when it was enough, such that we were no longer or farther from the other’s reach. I trace back to where I last saw my keys, whether teaspoons or tablespoons, what quotient or what remains I failed to carry. But hours are in gradations of light, the violet a single bird breaks, inexplicably, with first or final note.

For her, each of the six previous months will be angled, obtuse and widening into days, then hours and so on until tense moments resolve into a precise arc, a smooth blade that, when put to chop, is blunt.

Sometimes our paths cross by accident; we appear to the other gradually in sight but suddenly in recognition. I turn away, feel her watching my limbless body.


I wake up that morning and say to her, “I love you; that’s why I can’t, anymore.” The syllogism goes like this: I love you; I love another; I can’t love both; I love another more;

not another person, only that the person could be you. But this possibility isn’t like how I could say this green blouse would look great on you knowing she’d try it on to please me.

She thought we’d discover together how we might be together; I could believe in waiting till the day of to decide whether we were staying in, or going to her sister’s party. Even what we thought about the afterlife. But I could not believe in closing my eyes to be touched in a place I didn’t know about, or could be touched that way. What kind of love is that? she’d ask.

In loving a possibility, I love neither her nor her; I’m all limbs and without conclusion.


I wake up that morning and say to her, “I love you. I can’t.” There is no conjunction but the temporal: there will be tomorrow whether she or I like it or not. When one’s imagination fails, we fail.

She wanted to imagine together like the menu and dinner we made for a party of ten, to tell each other what to do like the day lights the undersides of magnolia leaves, to see for each other what we saw each in the others’ absence, what is doubly seen in our retelling: the squirrel crossing on telephone wires from one jacaranda to another, the heron who has returned. The world could be twice-told and repeated.

The jacaranda blossoms bloom and scatter. The bees follow to the ground. Like snow, they smudge brown into the concrete underfoot. A layer of violet fills up the windshield of a blue Oldsmobile that hasn’t been moved in days.



To do without the body’s
basic appetite primes one’s other
wants. Starving and

sand-colored, a desert hides its
critters, ribbed and moon-
thirsty in their lairs. Named after

the prayer, Joshua
trees raise their worms, moths and
woodpeckers as supplications, equal

and unpretentious where, without rain,
water from dew or animal
carcass would do, where death, viscous,

redistributes and is
sparing. Opened wide, my mouth is filled
with mouths, rowed teeth the unstruck

rocks of honey. God, my body’s
lost weight isn’t loss for vanity: the cactus
learns thirst in swells and splinters.

Some nights abound in darkness, others, light-
pricked, watch the crawl beneath stars, fixed
and eternity-startled.

photo by:



My friends cancel their daughter’s birthday party;
the wife is in labor. I wake up lonely
for an ex or, since they’re most of the women
I know, friends’ wives. The dense fog proper to
January, not the past two days’ summer
weather, feels sudden and like injury.
A meteorologist could explain:
low pressure, high pressure, relationships
I don’t get but of consequence. The climate
is to be accommodated to, kept shelter
from, like I do God’s transparent injunctions
to pluck out all. But obsequiousness
and holiness are bodies apart. Fogs
will dissipate eventually. White
privet. Blank calendar page, events crossed
out. Private dismemberment is my playing
tea house, never a lack of company,
bread loaves nor tea. The fog will clarify,
at the last, mountains; I, too, might be hind.

photo by: frielp