Langston Hughes in Shanghai

By Kassy Lee


Rumored by foreigners in the French Concession,
sixty-seven thousand stillborns dissolve
in the Yangtze River per year, sediments laced
with babies who find their rest in this city
carved by foreigners carving men

that interrupt the opium concert.
The watermelon seller drags his net
filled with red-hearted melons through
this death-polluted river to give them
extra weight to be sold by the pound
in Shanghai. These blood-soaked
watermelons are the best damn
watermelons in the world.


At night, the women place spiders on the faces
of rented babies, and I sneak out

of the French Concession to the part
where the Chinese live. The white men said not

to, but I found the Chinese
treated me better. The white men tell me I’m

no longer black here, that I’m an American,
and better yet, a citizen of the world. They say

I’m free. But I still can’t find a damn
hotel that’ll let me stay and restaurants

make me use the back door.
The white men again have drawn

the color line against people
even in their own country.


In a smoky jazz club, I meet the black entertainers

that can be found nearly anywhere in the world,

dancing like there’s freedom

on the stage.

The two dancers doing the paso doble are cussing each
other out the whole time, and I feel like I’m back in Harlem.

On the day before I leave, they make me a meal of southern
fried chicken, biscuits and gravy. As I sit in a rickshaw

on the Bund, I see another black man. I yell Hey man
and he yells What ya saying and I never see him again.

Kassy Lee’s most recent chapbook, Period of Warring States, was published in 2017 by Another New Calligraphy Press. Her first chapbook, zombia, was published in 2014 by dancing girl press. Her work has been featured in Spittoon Literary Magazine, Quarto, The Columbia Review, and Perigee. She has read in the Bookworm Beijing International Literary Festival. She lives in Beijing.