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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