Sally Wen Mao
Paris Syndrome


Paris Syndrome (n.) a psychological condition experienced almost exclusively by Japanese tourists and to a lesser extent, Chinese tourists, who are disappointed when the city of lights does not live up to their romantic expectations. The syndrome, considered an extreme case of culture shock, causes symptoms such as an acute delusional state, hallucinations, anxiety, dizziness, and sweating. Single women travelers are most afflicted by this disease.





June was a parade of Chinese brides,

                their trains spilling into the gardens.

Blooming gloom, purple sepals—


sweat crowned their frowns, wet diadems

                 of dread. Hems, rough hedges—their heads

groomed doll-like for their grooms to glower at.




                June smelled like perfume

                and piss. Chewing stale bread

on the bridges, I tossed my misgivings

                into the river. How I loved the marble


women in the Tuileries, their inconsolable

weight. To be a monument, stone-carved,

to sorrow. I wandered in search of my own pulse

                between the Monet panels

                in the l’Orangerie.


In an airless apartment room on the Rue Eugène

                in the sixteenth Arrondisement,

I wrote letters never sent

                to friends long gone. The paper dead

weight in my suitcase. I didn’t talk to anyone.


Disconsolation prize: a meal, wet innards.

                A patisserie of one heart pickled

                in many jars.





The inability to access the joy you stored in a safe

                to open when the time comes,


when you’re somewhere else.

               The joy you hoped

               for in a beautiful country.


Before you could go, you imagined it.

               The possibilities. Wet cornices.

                Plump roasts.


                It was this longing,

                this bewilderment,


that made you feel like you could live again.




To burn is to burnish a dead kingdom

               with fine lighting.

Lightning in the sky each night,

               clawing out the sordid eyes

that watch and watch you as you sleep.





I don’t know how my mother pictured it. A frame

              for her bones. A house big enough to contain


the past. But no, she never found one.

              The studio we rented


so I could go to school in that district.

              And that makes two regrets.


              Before we arrived in the beautiful

              country, I imagined a house

              with walls made of silk.


I imagined a stranger could come up to our door

              and whisper a secret through its seams.


Found In Volume 50, No. 03
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Sally Wen Mao
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