M. Cynthia Cheung

Ghazal No. 5

This time out, I return as a mountain lion. I don’t mean to survive: exile
crossing highways, caught on camera traps. But I find no other exit—

I don’t believe in God or reincarnation, not when my body still
outlives my memories. As if a body isn’t a form of exile.

To speak one’s native language as a foreigner. I move the silences
around—blue-green mountains draped in rain I’ll never see in exile.

Every thousand years, the meadow floods. What’s left behind:
a film of minnows sparkling and twisting in the grass. Exquisite exiles.

In dreams, I reel from loss to loss. Each ghost I encounter recites
my greatest fears. As if I were the only stranger speaking from exile.

Hollywood—bright letters at night. The lone male stalks downhill. Eye-
shine, long feline sweep. He does not swerve, my veteran of exile.

On the ridge where once I spotted deer, I find candy wrappers, old flyers.
I hold my breath as long as it takes. The things you do in exile.



Boreal Time

To have evolved. To survive the retreat of glaciers. To travel distances across the earth in a soft body, naked except for the tightly coiled shell—a living speck of flesh that cannot live without long-vanished Pleistocene air. To make a mollusk’s last stand: wolfsbane-covered slope where a river of ice reclines under bedrock, exhales through cracked talus. Each breath, the present. More bodies gliding silently over leaf litter. To follow the deepest instinct. To converge. They cannot hear the jet trail miles above. They do not look up. Translucent eggs exquisite and hibernal, not questioning, not demanding. To exist where everything melts.



M. Cynthia Cheung is a practicing physician and the author of Common Disaster (Acre Books, 2025). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Four Way Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, swamp pink, The Cortland Review, and others. A prior Idyllwild Arts Writers Week fellow, she is a poetry editor for Bear Review and serves as a judge for Baylor College of Medicine’s annual Michael E. DeBakey Medical Student Poetry Award. Find out more at www.mcynthiacheung.com