For joint pain
Grind up a single ginger root. Mix well with a tablespoon of salt
and water heated to 50 degrees Celsius. Stand in it every morning,
to drain weakness from the body. Coax your blood to release you
from your chemical inheritances. Forget that every woman
in your family has learned to pray on burning knees.
Between every bone, there is an erosion:
a gap filled with stories from your youth.
How delicate your hands the first time you tweezed glass
from a wound, gave stitches, washed a cadaver.
Now, your fingers are swollen with the energy of mourning,
last words gathered under your nails. Let flickers of heat
salvage each of your body’s frozen bridges.
Lie back with your hands at your sides,
for once unobliged to make something live.
Boil lemongrass in your largest saucepan and cover tightly.
Undress in the dark. Cover your body with two blankets
and lie beside the pot. Open the lid slowly; let the steam hit
your face. Inhale and sweat the poison out.
After, your mother will rub spoons on your back
with Eagle brand oil to banish bad wind,
scrape every pore until it sings.
She will leave purple moons that fade
each time someone survives. As a child,
I saw the marks on my mother’s back
and demanded to know who had done this. She explained
that it was an old cure her grandmother had taught her,
that it worked just as well as it did back home,
that an act of love will remain the same.
Steep one teaspoon of dried qing hao in warm water.
Drink three times a day to purge internal heat.
Once, my mother translated for a TB patient with no English,
told him that his cells had to start again.
She took note of the volume of blood rising up his throat –
his insides unable to hold their own mutiny. Before diagnosis,
he’d gone outside to smoke. That morning, broken webs
had gauzed the air, and he’d puffed into a winter
that made him ask are all the trees in England dead?
while his lungs formed black forests.
He swallowed his pills with bitter tea sent by relatives,
and swore he could feel the herbs taking root
inside him. He wondered if his ancestors had died
with their chests full of yellow flowers.
Natalie Linh Bolderston’s work has been featured in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Oxford Poetry, The Good Journal, and elsewhere. She received the silver Creative Future Writers’ Award in 2018, and is a Bi’an Award runner-up. Her pamphlet, The Protection of Ghosts, is published with V. Press.