Huan He


                                A tribute is

a wish made public, and I salute you,

           O you soldier;

                                 stationed in

mouth, I hold still like field mice, huddled

           in a red barn

                                 raised to be

a church. Is heaven what you swallow, or

           is it the opposite

                                 of mercy? A

boy had to learn to fish by becoming an

           iridescent bobber

                                 at once a

pearl and a poison, wearing the averaged

           face of a Walmart

                                 sticker. In

the pulse of you, I see the night drinking

           the fire. A prairie

                                 is a holding

ground for sinners on their way to the forum;

           the tunnels lead

                                 not to

respite but to each other, shapes out of air.



The Yellow Iris


Flood the riverbed on the curse of a
cattail, jealous that a boy in rainboots
scooped up his lover, the yellow iris,
who stopped his prairie-watch only to
help a limping grasshopper. Storm clouds
gossip about this tall tale of yearning, their
gray hairs pinched modestly, unheard by the father
lost in a fly-fisher’s spell.
A spotted toad skips between the boy’s legs,
darting through green-yellow weeds
into the mouth of a splash. The boy, Ming, strokes the
tip of each cattail with two palms, a rickety plane desperate
to take flight. The yellow iris, behind his ear
in companionship, surveys the wide bend
of the Platte River. Wounded skies make room,
a gesture of welcome despite
the dead buried in the Sand Hills.
He remembers the lightning, the thunder,
reaching down to see if the earth remembered too,
this time, or the next. Flooded, wet, soak up
the new rain that painted his eyes in only gray,
no color could escape. Running, the yellow iris kisses
the sunburned mark behind his ear,
before becoming the wind.


The rice fields shine like rows of tinsel,
the sun a neighborhood beggar in a lazy nap.
A boy, who will become the father,
drops a candy wrapper. The villagers from Shaoshan
stomp its pink out, rushing to see the sky swallow the
flight of cranes. Over the low rolling river, the birds slip
in between the folds of summer heat. An old stick balances
on the neck of a sunken man, his walk that of mud,
passing the boy, running on the earth-skinned road toward
the white cuts of lightning. He lifts his head skyward,
and rain takes the shape of a boy.


“Mercy” and “The Yellow Iris” were originally published in A Public Space



no name man
                                 After Maxine Hong Kingston

           heaves out heavy            hooves

hover in each breath

                                                       fingers escape their


                      the man who named no man

                                            behind the birch and the well

                                                                  flight on ground

                                                       despite the wood owl

                                                                             take off is

           approaching,           the scurry of boots



glow #2: a space-warp

time is a          flat circle,

or     TV scientist says,

I     remote flick,     curve

make,     sofa lay, in     soft

soft velvet,     I swim     in

circle of flatness,     pancake

memories, take me     in a

whirl-a-gig, cosmic     rays in

living room stillness, to     be

a person, a breath, a     hand

is moved in     honey air to

only touch the other     hand

below belt too tight     not

right binding,     like a sharp

circle, ritual be thy intention

—no, a circle, flat,     said by

the scientist          of TV,

speaking in velvet, soft, Soft.




Huan He is the author of Sandman (2022), which won the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Contest. His poetry explores race, sexuality, and belonging from the perspective of a queer Chinese American raised by the prairies. His poems appear/are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal (2021 Adrienne Rich Award Semifinalist), A Public Space, Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review (Poetry Contest Finalist), and elsewhere. Starting in Fall 2023, he will be an Assistant Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.