I. Wai Gong
When I am six years old—breathing
stifling airplane air, nose pressed
to my oval window, hand clutching seats—
you tell me the birth date on your passport
Who remembers, then?
You gulped your first breath
somewhere on a road fleeing
Nanjing. My mother would have
used the lunar calendar anyway.
Later, when I learn
of World War II refugees, I think
of all the wrong things that had to go
for one-fourth of your blood
to flow through my veins.
II. Ma Ma
We came here for you, you say, scrubbing rice
raw for dinner. Milky water
coating your hands, broad and capable
knuckles, trim nails, tracing the traces
of slight wrinkles. Work hands. Keep yours
soft and beautiful. Like a prince.
You waited tables and scrubbed dishes
long enough to tip well, crinkled
romance novels propped up against
cherry cabinets. You like words
but syllables always, always got tangled
III. Di Di
You can speak Chinese enough
to say, Sorry, I was born in America, and no
thank you, I’m full.
When was the last time you called me
Ge Ge? When we make jiao zhi, you crimp
the dough the way you soaked your edges
in America. Then, guacamole and chips at the table.
It feels like sacrilege
so I bury the feeling
with a chip down my throat.
IV. Ma Ma
There is a stretch of grass in our front yard that has become
a few years of mostly clover.
Bent over next to the half-blooming
rhododendrons, you uproot weeds
religiously, sparing none—but you allow this
slow invasion. Four leaf clovers, genetic mutants. A slip, irregular
cell development. A one-in-ten-thousand error growing as often
as a child with phenylketonuria. Your hands, harsh in the kitchen
and harsh against my scalp, become tender
when encased in worn gloves, dirt percolating the space
between thumb and forefinger, leaching green
into your veins. You drive fifteen miles to buy hanging planters.
Clover infiltrates the dining nook and entrenches itself
above the cabinetry. You encourage them into my bed.
A farm in Wyoming breeds as many as seven thousand
each day. One day, we will
preserve them between plastic
to sell as jewelry, as mass-produced luck.
Storm from Shotgun
After Ocean Vuong
On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops stormed through Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) Square, opening fire at the
crowd of nearly a million Chinese protesters. At least 300, perhaps 10,000, lives were estimated to have been lost
during the brutal massacre.
— The Gate of Heavenly Peace (1995)
As with all storms, this one was prefaced
by a forbidding stillness. Save
some one-hit wonder crooning for a second chance
on the radio in the bedroom. Then the last cloud
could no longer bear the weight.
The radio chatters its teeth against the window
as Ma’s fingers flip the station.
Paper-thin voices wander through the square
like lost children
through an aubade pierced by firearms.
Near the square where ruby lanterns once swam
through the dusky green, snipers rain down
brass shell kisses from rooftops.
Umbrellas gasp against tear gas.
The Tank Man with the shopping bags tries
to reorder the universe and becomes
red calligraphy on the asphalt.
Over the plaza, bandaged rickshaws mimic
the clicking iambic heart beats
trying to revive boys and girls.
The whole scene wonders: how
to hold a heart to see it
to know it
without tearing through skin and bone—
If the guns had lowered their voices
by a lash, you could’ve heard
the resonant crack of a billion hearts.
Maybe then the splinters would’ve
riddled the starry-eyed flag.
Maybe heaven would have wept.
Jerry Xiao is a high-school senior who hails from Collierville, Tennessee. His writing appears in Crab Creek Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Cream City Review, Los Angeles Review, and Diode Poetry Journal, among others. He has participated in and won awards in the National YoungArts Competition and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.