Diana Cao

Laundry, Clean Room, Shower, Trash Day, Taxes

My therapist says to let my body be quiet and now I can't stop. I've been quiet on my couch for five hours. I was quiet a long time on the floor where I took off my shoes. Now I'm in the room. You called, and I silenced the phone. This quiet isn't about you. In a list of deaths I don't have to choose, I choose anyway. Bury myself in quietude. Things pile up. Actually, the quiet in me is like the quiet in you. I think I'm looking for the word still.



Relational, or Instructions for Going On

Once you realize it's possible to stop
in the middle of anything then

In Boston, my roommate Nadia watches
videos of strangers getting ready for bed:
brushing their teeth, taking out contacts,
removing makeup. Sometimes a candle
is involved. Some self-care ritual to handle
the passage of time. The dripping wax
on my table doesn't pool so much as spread
satisfyingly into a seal that cools as I watch.


This is as good a place as any to stop. I forget
what it's like to be new in a city until
I feel someone new to me see it
through my eyes. Broadway, a street

I've walked down a million times, in a million
states, open-hearted, dazed, professionally attired
and puking in that trash can, crossing the street
to dodge an ill-timed friend, keeping my distance

to keep strangers safe. There never stop being
so many unknowns. The word home lodges
in the throat, and familiar rituals blip before
my eyes, like a life. I buy overpriced fruit.

In the park, dogs picnic in the late afternoon light.
This place as easy as any to forget.


In the afternoon it's easy to forget what is
is. The light coming through the curtains coming
from another time. When I was seven, I visited Shanghai,
and thought, afterwards, that I missed it. I thought

that place was mine to miss. Cigarette smoke after
reminded me of my uncles, reminded me that uncles
existed, in some version of home where no one
expected us back.

Embarrassingly, I called it mine.

Over Boston, I watch the coastline
curve out of sight. In the water,
the ripple of a boat. Otherwise tranquil
open skies. I have no fear of flying.

At my first job after college, I taught
fourth graders in another country. Clueless,
I tried to read them Auden: About suffering
they were never wrong

about suffering? We spent the entire lesson
on that line. Someone's sister is in the hospital now.
My plane is headed for Baltimore where my mother
has taken a fall. After Baltimore, the plane stops

in Chicago, Sacramento. Deadlines,
scheduled flights, and some people move on.


me, to my mother: you have to let others be
her response to me: but you're not an other


Dread, among other things, makes me angry.
I don't know if it's the inevitable I dread so much as
seeing it. The body slumped. The moment of panic.
Or, maybe worse, not panic but reluctance. I don't feel

enough. At first not realizing what's going on, saying
something in annoyance, like sit up, pulling the chair
out, the thud. If I see it clearly enough, do I still
have to undergo it? I know now that not everyone

moves on. The moment after which I'll be alone alone


How to stop. I've made it sound easy but the lights
keep changing just as we reach them at crosswalks
where we open to the unknown should the unknown
choose us. Mistakes were made and some of them
are mine. There is just enough time now to miss it.



Diana Cao (she/they) is a writer and JD candidate at Harvard Law School, whose work has appeared in Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, 32 Poems, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and International Literary Seminars, and her writing has been nominated for a PEN/Robert J. Dau Award, Best New Poets, and Best of the Net. She is a winner of Nimrod International’s 2023 Neruda Prize, and she likes night swims, talking to citrus, and the gloaming.