In New York City
This time, something new simmers in my daughter's place.
For the first time, she and he, her long-time friend,
invite us to stay with them—
Compact rooms hold a glass coffee table,
a moveable spice cart, and a spinning bike.
She flings open the windows.
The scent of rooftop redbuds rushes in. They bicycle,
lift weights, and unwind with yoga. My tightly wound heart
unwinds from worry about their fast-paced life.
Something new simmers in my daughter.
For the first time, they (she) host a party for my birthday,
for my words, they hold in their hands.
Something new simmers in me. For the first time,
I marvel at the varied forms, like Picasso paintings,
of glass buildings mirroring each other,
as we mirror each other. This person
I love felt like a stranger before.
Has my love burdened the beloved?
They cook frozen broccoli with Sichuan pepper,
green beans, and quinoa. I have to admit it looks verdant
and tastes good, even when not fresh. Then I don't mind leaving
this city, its thinly stretched sky, and its forest of towering
buildings, back to my quiet countryside with an unblocked sky,
knowing she has wings, not tethered to the kite string in my hand.
What I Once Called Home
What can time hold? Not the place where we lived in the 1980s, Shanmen Hu Tong,
named since 1911, the year the imperial dynasty ended.
Not a single trace of my Hu Tong —
mazes of narrow lanes, the two-room house we lived in,
the one courtyard, one water faucet under a big open sky,
shared by three families, the wooden bed also used as
a ping pong table lying on top of four chairs in the thick, warm air.
Looking now at those modern, glassy buildings in the heart of Beijing.
Shades of the bulky high risings have pushed the sky farther away.
What can satisfy the insatiable taste buds? Not now abundant restaurants —
Peking Duck, Palace food, Italian Pizza,
Japanese sushi, Star Bucks… Ringing in my ears
as if the vendor’s callings echoed in the Hu Tong,
Ice-sugar gourds! Ice-sugar gourds!
The tower of red hawthorns on each bamboo stick, covered in
ice-sugar, crispy, glistening, sweet-sour in the frigid wind.
What can history recover? Like the restored White Pagoda Temple
near my Hu Tong. We walk to the breeze of a flurry of downy catkins —
the hidden ancient secrets just uncovered —
a mantra written in Emperor Qianlong's own hand,
a carving of Guanyin made from yellow sandalwood.
Not the walnut tree towered high next to our window —
we twisted the stems and coaxed nuts down by a bamboo hook in the crisp air.
Their green shells blackened my hands and took days to wash away.
Xiaoly Li is a 2022 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship Grant in Poetry. Her poetry collection Every Single Bird Rising (previously called Across the Pacific) published by Future Cycle Press in April 2023 was a finalist for the Zone 3 Press Book Award. This collection was a finalist for the Zone 3 Press Book Award and a semi-finalist for the Trio House Press Book Award and the 2022 Laura Boss Poetry Foundation Narrative Poetry Award. Her poetry has appeared in Spillway, American Journal of Poetry, PANK, Atlanta Review, Chautauqua, Rhino, Cold Mountain Review, J Journal and elsewhere; her work has been featured on Verse Daily and in several anthologies. Li has been nominated for Best of the Net three times, Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize twice. She lives in Massachusetts.