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?
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.