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Holly Qu

Shenzhen, China

QSI International School of Shenzhen


CAS for Database


We haven’t heard the birds since last September

it’s been a wet winter, there may never

have been any birds.


It was the summer I learned God

is a verb, interjection, and a four-letter word.


When we staggered onto the sun deck

at dusk and waited for morning to

clamp its dull over the bayou,

the violet of the wind graced our

upturned mouths:

we let go of the bottles in our hands

and the screams in our eyes

to drink in the heavy stillness. Hot humidity

measured our weaknesses, splintered

our spines. We crawled to

each other like children.

Like this we were baptized under

the quaking branches and LED lights,

as the swallows called out our names.


Is this an exorcism or an evocation?

I woke up the morning before

you the morning after.

The lotus flower you gave me

shriveled because I forgot to place it in water.

Then you held me all summer, tight as a ritual

like feeding or hand-washing.


I have forgotten many things:

long days, longer nights, your grip and my giving,

the taste of warm lemons;

what it means to touch something godly.


We bend in the wind like stems. We shed

our skins, turn violet when we close our eyes.


You called it redemption and I called it

surrender. It was the summer you recited

all the wrong passages in the text.

We were becoming and unbecoming

in a wave of our own disaffection

and when we woke up again miles later it was all over.

We raise our hands to the sky

crying for rain and the answer of birds.


One feels the sensation of tilting while reading this poem; the images are disorienting—a “becoming and unbecoming”. Time seems to pass in loops, natural imagery bleeds into the artificial, and the presence of holiness flits in and out of stanzas. This poem definitely achieves what its title sets out to accomplish, and memorably so.

Holly Qu graduated from QSI International School of Shenzhen, China in 2020. She is currently a freshman at Columbia University, studying English literature.


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