Pressed Sycamore

By: Ying Wei Zhang

 

Gold, orange, red; warmer than fevered bodies

Colors of the candle saturating my face

But my back, turned away from an artificial sun, felt cold

As the metal bookshelf in the closet.

A holding place for other egos

That I’ve collected, concealed in page after dusty page. 

At midnight, leaves hidden from prying eyes and snoring fangs

Fragile skin connected by dead capillaries and arteries

I finally reveal its form, an image of a hand outstretched

Fingers fanned, flexed, waiting

For another to entwine.

Once made to bathe in the blessings of a distant sun

A sycamore leaf—a souvenir from a tree of resilience

Protection, and my childhood. 

Preserved in its likeness from years before

Only the moon is allowed to eavesdrop.

Fearfully, I dare not reveal these leaves in the daylight

But they miss the sun, the glow, unhidden.

Tell me—would the warmth be worth the burn?

 

In the schoolyard, celebrating our promotion to seventh grade—

to big kids school, another thrilling future of

Lukewarm chicken nuggets, waiting for three pm

And turning pages in novels we promised to read

But of course, haven’t. 

Skipping through the hall, dressed in our best

Black flats tapping, impatient for the ceremony

With wide eyes and unsure footing

We had crashed—two ancient ships in the night, two colliding moonlets

In Saturn’s rings, two birds forced onto a graceless path. 

Your face warmed—I saw so closely—

An embarrassed flush coloring your visage

To match those painted lips.

Our words caught in our throats. The air which, in another life

Would have carried out a query, a compliment, or

Two snarky eleven year-old’s remarks

Here evaporated before reaching the morning sun. 

These words, sweet and soft

Or bitter and harsh

Saved for our next meeting. 

These chapters of our book not reached-

No pressed flower or leaf occupying yet

No remnants from a brushing of lips to recall.

We look forward to them, but never turn our gaze—

 

To the sycamore leaves, reflected in wide pupils

Descend around us and our shock

Leaping from their mother’s myriad arms or carried away

In elopement with the wind

Needing and wanting nothing of approval.

Their flight stirred a rebellion and a misery in me—

One that kills the sun to live under the moon.

Silent disagreement and glaring 

Behind a cold daughter.

 

Learning from my family of “monstrous” and “deformity”

Words scorned at the screen in late June.

Loud guffaws, voluminous at the dinner table 

From which I shrink, no longer hungry. 

Harsh words from mouths that raised me from girlhood

Praised me for my report card, interrogated me about boys

Told me I was so precious—

Would they think the same if they knew? 

Would they support the girl they raised?

Would they praise me for my accomplishments?

Would they—

 

In my culture, we don’t acknowledge it—we don’t speak of it

For our distance and clean hands, we are thankful.

Ignorantly sighing, “Nothing of rotting within our tree”

When the stump rots, there is no saving. 

Unfortunately, I am a sentimental fool

Surviving under the moon

Who shoves sycamore leaves into old novels

Hoping its colors will leave a stain. 

 

Lips pursed, she said “We won’t talk about this.” 

I nodded. Then watching another leaf disappear

Behind the horizon of a roof 

I smiled from unknown joy

And wished it well.