When I say I do not believe, I don’t speak with the conviction
of a dark boot above the angry swell
of the anthill. I say this
the way I can see my young grandfather walk
through the orchard, all swagger and spring. He licks
the red off his finger with tongue as wide as a river, reaching up
to adjusts his straw hat so I can't picture
the hills of his face. When I say I do not believe,
I say this as the child who waved
dirt-crusted hands above cherries before she ate them.
For real though, cherries come from Heaven? she asked
in a half-flutter of lips and fingers, as if
she had something in her eye. A spell, not a prayer,
but what would she do without it?
And what would I do without this child? I could spend the rest
of my life watching and growing her like a tree
inside my chest. Like her, I dream of my mother's lips
on the split lip of the ladle each time
I taste the jam. I dream of my mother
with a vying tongue; I dance
among the pledge of flowers and guiltlessly leave
a dead husk for each promise made and then made mine to carry. But my mother,
being far lovelier than I could ever hope to be,
repots her white roses and adores
even the weeds. But surely I need not be
a rose. Cacti bloom, too,
and surely I could love as a cactus does.
Surely I could write about the dormant seeds
without being owned by the lives I owe
my life to. I could even write
a letter, and in this letter
I would write not my dear grandfather, but
my dear friend Zheng Gong, and I would write this in the soil
that holds us both in our inverted ways, as if the sinews
of the earth between was only ridden
with wind and cool water.
Yet it is the harvest season again, and sparrows
peck the cherries into familiar red faces and I cannot ignore this.
So, when I say I do not believe, what I really mean
is that I am afraid of being plucked from the branches. I am afraid
of watching myself licked off a rosy index finger, leaving
but a shelled breath which slips from the under the tongue and out
onto the stiff and sweetened soil.
Henie Zhangis a high school student from Shanghai. She serves as the co-editor-in-chief of the Zeitgeist Literary Magazine and is an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. She has been published in Polyphony Lit and the Parallax Literary Journal and, when her head is not spinning from a Ted Chiang novella, can be found fiddling with a camera or trying to keep her plants alive with modest success.