top of page

Over a Late-Night Call, My Friend Remarks That He Likes to Watch Us Suffer

Henie Zhang

Shanghai, China

Concordia International School Shanghai


CAS for Database

The first time the ocean found its way into my lungs, I felt my rib cage become

a red balloon. It engorged

and popped and as the surfboard

tumbled away I felt myself flying,

stitched into the ocean like a bird on a tapestry. I thought I would become

another happy bubble lapping

at my mother’s skirt. Even long after my parents found me, a heaving,

disbelieving sacrifice on the wet sand

the ocean remained. It left a piece

inside my mouth, a second skin breathing

across the expanse of my tongue & ever since

my words have tasted like a laboratory. As did the words

of all my similarly sea-borne friends. Each conversation

became a trade, a scathing clink of syllables

for a net of spinning white shrapnels

nestled between the incisors. Such is the kinship

between squirming flies: we will discuss the injustice of putting

bad arugula in salad but will not go on hunger strikes

for freedom, and much to the horror

of the cobweb-haired we will even fashion memes

out of mass destruction. Everyone in the world

deserves a sprinkling—the lunch lady. The bus driver. The defiant girl

with the skirt half an inch above her middle finger.

But beneath the un-mined scabs

is the soft prickle of something that has eluded us. An almost had it, or him, or her. It is the emotion of something inflating so quickly inside your chest you will let it loop

around your hand & lead you anywhere

on this planet. It is an itch

dangled at the edge of your mouth,

enough to make fate taste like fine home cooking. It is the act

of furnishing shooting stars out of the feeling of being crushed. It is the act of making a fist underwater and throwing it

at the dark shapes ahead. The salt of the earth

is now the light of the world—we are diving, pushing our heads

back through the waves. Spitting shells & thread until

our lips, too, birth strangers.


The physicality of this poem is profound. At first, it is the blue hurl of the ocean, its distant rise and come; it sounds deceptively good. But when it comes, it is a torrent. It feels red and evil, cruel and intense. It puts you down, thrashes, makes you feel bad and wasted. And then a pause, a white moment that is perfectly tangible: the diction softens, the movement slows and lengthens. It almost takes you home. But it resumes. Cold and strange miracle, it thrusts itself to a product by sheer force of will. This is the feeling of the poem, and within it, a brutal sort of growing.

Henie Zhang is a senior from Shanghai. She is the co-editor-in-chief of the Zeitgeist Literary Magazine and, when not writing, can often be found fiddling with a camera or trying to keep her plants alive with moderate success.


bottom of page