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Cathy Miao

CAS for Database

College Station, Texas, USA

A&M Consolidated High School


After we settle upon the soil of the Shanghai airport,

I watch as my mother exhales. Her limbs

boneless, burdenless, slackening in the way

tree branches shrug off the weight of winter snow.

On the road west, she contemplates the scenery—

the silt-lined banks of the gurgling Yangtze,

sparrows spilling into the sky from the roofs of factories,

lacquered apartment buildings standing brittle

against the afternoon sun.

Her childhood haunts,

furrowed and gorged like the creases that

have worked their way onto her face. Once,

she had stood on the shoulder of that very road,

hair chaste and loose, one hand clutching her

father’s traveling bag. The underside ripped,

rubbed raw from years of wear and worry.

She had been young and graceless, uncertain

of the future but faithful in its infinite paths.

Her smooth, girlish fingers extended, to grasp at hope,

unaware that home was already left behind.


I was so floored by this poem the first time I finished it, I had to read it out loud to my family. This piece is able to capture so many of those strange feelings that come with landing in familiar places that have grown unfamiliar. The author is able to capture the nostalgia and bittersweet so perfectly through images of a mother returning to Shanghai. As readers, we are immediately grounded within the setting through poignant, vivid images of “silt-lined banks of the gurgling Yangtze River” or “sparrows spilling into the sky.” As we near the end, they write, “She had been young and graceless, uncertain / of the future but faithful in its infinite paths.”— a line that draws a beautiful link between coming of age and a sense of place, a theme that so powerfully pervades this poem.

Cathy Miao is a junior at A&M Consolidated High School who enjoys writing creative nonfiction and science fiction. When she's not reading or writing, she can often be found playing Word Hunt, listening to music, or solving math puzzles.


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