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Ode To Two

Isabelle Jiang

Creskill, NJ

Creskill High School



In the mid-1900s, much of rural China was illiterate. My grandmother first learned to read in her adulthood; in her early stages of learning Chinese, she could read only while murmuring the words to herself.



And at this little apogee

of my youth, it can but

come, fumbled,

roiling sweetly, tumbling

back to me:

The tangguo that broke my teeth last April.

The chrysanthemums withering just beyond our window.

The silence about it

the loudest—the apple

bubbling in the pot.


Then the evening. The room lit

for two who clutched books close

as infants, the tall table

at which we sat. You,

reading—your murmur

muted song; your veined hands

gripping chopsticks, tracing

each small, inked line

to guide your eyes along. Lamplight spilling over

and onto the table like steaming water

into snow.


My hands know no work.

Yet each summer we’d stoop low

upon firm soil,

beneath a sun which swathed

the little world in light, and such a light,

as though it struck each filed edge

of a crystal prism. We’d laugh

as our burnt arms twitched,

bearing cartons like gold pans to your garden,

twitched when tending tomatoes

well on their way to ripeness—plucking

those that drooped heavy

with red flesh. The day before,

you’d spooned old soup

into milk cartons,

each oil bead aglow, and taught me

not to waste. The day before,

you’d pressed young mums

into my cupped hands,

watching the oil slow

and thicken into gold.


In time, I will cross the ocean

to greet you,

greet you with an armload of books,

a pocket of seeds.


But today, I read whole chapters,

plant small bodies in the dirt, hope

for life. Promise—where you are,

the sky stops wincing long enough

to hint at good harvest. Where you are,

gushi surely murmur

on their own.


And still I can’t speak

in sentences, so I turn my eyes

down to watch tangguo collect

at the bottom of the sink,

and push boiled apples

about in my toothless mouth.


This piece blows me away with the grace with which it treats familial connection. It’s truthful in a way I rarely find.


Isabella Jiang lives in New Jersey. Her work has previously been nominated for The Best Small Fictions and recognized by The Poetry Society, Hollins University, The National Federation of State Poetry Societies, The Growing Stage, and elsewhere. She edits for Sandpiper, Opus, and HerCulture.

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