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Gag Reflex

Isabella Jiang

Cresskill, NJ

Cresskill High School


CAS for Database

You heard no birds that summer until late August,

well into the days of sudden thunder

and rain. Then they stood affixed

to the ledge at a window—clear, patient, ringing out

into wet heat. And in the sky, dull hues buckling

beneath the sway of little clocks, pulling

back into great, quaking plumes of dust.


In that time, we ate like two starved swifts:

blood ties eschewed, waiting

at the riverbank. You’d sit

and spit grape skins. These grapes were seedless

and their skins were thin,

but we look for things to spit.


This time, you wake

first. You begin to see

how everything seems to spit this body

back: the greening creek

disgorging fish, the yellow yielding

to dusk. You begin to see, which is

to say all your sweet words

are spat. They know this,

the blue-eyed virgins

at the riverbank: their long hands

pressing soap to sun-soused sheets,

the cotton hems soaked in wine. Their ablution

but a song: how

heartlessly we feast.


The muffled wish: all you want

is to bend the body—those bleak outjuttings

of stiff bone—and you fake it,

and I fake it

all again. Each evening laying sheet

upon laundered sheet, gently marking

the tail end of a week. By dawn,

we siphon out the dust,

the dusk, the song, and I see it

through cold wombs; I take it

from your lips. I yawn. Say

this is why I name myself

with children. Say, this is just

one world in which we feed.


Gag Reflex has all the emotions of a hot summer and a failed relationship. It’s beautiful in its anonymity—offbeat and truthful and bursting with life.

Isabella Jiang ('20) is a student at Cresskill High School in Cresskill, NJ. Her work has previously been nominated for The Best Small Fictions and recognized by The Poetry Society, Hollins University, The National Federation of State Poetry Societies, The Growing Stage, and elsewhere. She edits for Sandpiper, Opus, and HerCulture.


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