self-portrait as wu zetian

the only chinese empress for 2000 years


帝 is reserved for men and gods & they have no name

for me. 皇, 帝, 皇帝, emperor; 皇后, his mother, wife; and i,


in the palace, without him. the 后: after, behind, gone. in last night’s shadow

a man slits his stomach & spills out truth. he is loyal,


they said, he who wounds himself. when another spears

his own chest, we are unsurprised: the guilt traitors face


rise steadily from the body. whispers deliver the morning:

i will shatter easily & without him, i am less 皇, less


woman. in the morning, generals speak of closing borders

& note a lack of strength: perhaps


it is our country, perhaps it is our defense, perhaps it is

me, though that is implied, for i am a woman -


soft, fragile. woman, less 皇, without him. prepare, the generals

tell me: they are pressing in, from the north.


Vivian Zhao

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