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CAS for Database

Jeffrey Xu

Livingston, New Jersey

Livingston High School


土: broken earth, standing soil

time unmade the dense of me, undressed me in quaking

mutability. in another orphaned alley, i wandered aimlessly,

thrifting the stones' sorrow for a song, so the street vendors took me

for a poor child, gave me dried duck tongue for free. they said

make this your own, shoved a curdled strip into my unwashed

hands — whispered this poverty is your inheritance in knotted

hemiola, their syllables raked of rhythm. i affirmed the affliction, raised

the cracked flesh to the lithosphere of my lips, its pronged end

glistening like a hollow bone beneath the hazy moon. i parted

my jaws into a barren field, pretending to unname the silence of the night —

in syncopated mouthfuls, i savored the plucking of hunger’s hardened roots

& the decrescendo of destitution’s darkened bruise. this is the hometown

that i’ve prayed to forget: a mountain of angled roads & jagged

histories, a plain where uncertainty is the native language & want

is the mother hymn. yet here, memory surged like a flood through my turgid

veins & rugged limbs — under the fading starlight, i attempted

to whisper my first anthem, excavate it from the recesses of my soul.

nothing came out.

水: tempest — a childhood

when i was young, mama told me that everyone had a relationship

        with the ocean. she prayed alone in proverb, pleading to the ancestors

for brighter skies, left me chewing cardboard & plastic in the living room, waif

        like an abandoned vessel. in america, she bore the wrath of foreign gales, taught

me to take the dissonance of metal coins for broken birdsongs. on rainy days, isolation

       would smear its thick stains on my yellow shirt, drenching me in its saltless

teardrops. here lies the polyester fabric, its dangling tag carving a forgotten

        dream. here i’ve learned to wash away a storied culture, severing the bridge

to a distant world. yet when i fought with pink-faced boys, their insults splitting

        like knuckles in jutting mockery, silt became my blood, heritage my hymnal.

at day, this flood was a cleansing; at night, it was an annihilation. tear by tear

        the veiled moon swallowed stars’ almond eyes. wordless, i foamed envy

in my dinghy, gnawing on my desecrated carbonate shell, the tides metastatic. at home,

        i set fire to the monolid cancer, draining my skins of their shrapneled silence.

火: at the nanchang uprising memorial museum with my father, aunt, and uncle

this is where the boys turned crimson, they said, crimson like the revolution. between

artillery shells they wove through the emaciated forest, their cries licking the skies like

fickle flames, their naive gazes darting like molotovs. here, at the museum, i stick my lips

to history’s bosom & extract its sour milk, splashing it against my palate in an ebbless

flow. my father points to a picture of his grandfather, says he was one of them, as if he

were an untaken prize. all i can see is a soldier boy without a home, i say. honor was his

home. my father pierces his syllables like the bayonets in monochrome montage above

us, polymerizing a prayer from his weary hands. hear, o ancestors, we will never forget

the altar of your sacrifice.

these days, everything wells inside him — even back in america, memory of his

homeland siphons his verbs & strangles consonants midair, its bounds amorphous,

clawing its way through his gaping throat. today, he clasps his canon m5, makes an angel

of the godless soldier, & i cannot help but picture the flashing light as the bullet that

penetrated through the boy’s untamed chest, extinguishing the blaze of his unspoken


气: evening skies of an unseen city

good evening kiss. under street lamps, boys run wide-mouthed, bend over azaleas, their

stomachs rubbery & stagnant. father & mother let me lead our way back to the apartment

building, tell me this is your home, so i try to be quiet, burrowing my tongue in its

wet-marketed exigencies & pocketing it like a hidden pearl.

beneath its monotone beating, summer’s congealed

breath still flutters, still grazes me in its bloodborne language,

my history thrashing like a latent wind, throttling me unfleshed & unraveled

— but in my silent cityscape, the night

remains moonless, splits wounds out of

ochre skies, draws dust & dew from the

great gash of heaven where another warrior

brandishes his fiery sword, arrives at the nameless

hour, takes penance for poverty, poverty for hunger, calling

me in wisps of song.

behind us, the boys cartwheel in their baby-shadows, teething

heaven’s blameless tears like little whetstones, making mirrors of their lanugo eyes

        breath by breath

        beat by beat

never knowing how to say goodbye.


This peice was previously published in Blue Marble Review, September 2020.


There's something both instantly and intimately captivating about this poem. It's complex, sure, but what really blows the reader away is its depth and evolving form. As images progress, develop, and even change, the text itself does, too, creating an intricate, mesmerizing work.

Jeffrey Xu is a sophomore at Livingston High School who recently discovered his passion for creative writing. When he is not busily typing away on a Google Doc, you can find him reading about science, playing the piano, or sampling different kinds of chocolate. He is excited to have his work featured on Polyphony Lit!


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