In the summer, I return to the cradle of a city

Amy Wang

I have never before called home. Listen,

my waipo tells me. Listen to the blood of the earth.

Before me, it wells like a kiss, fire-red

and too soft to strangle. On stone steps,

the martial law of a face is scraped into bitter

medicine, gourded with the stonefruit

of bloody sound. Again, I learn history

by another name: on black and white reel,

my grandparents make themselves hills

and valleys and the guideposts of pillage.

As I watch, they ask the sky for another

orange memory, to peel into the image

of my mother and aunt and every other woman

who fell at the hands of the night. I look

at photographs, search them for my own face

—my hands empty of so much and so little.

Heat-sick, I come to a realization—the truth

is a beautiful thing if you bend it out of shape.

At the breakfast table, my family translates word

against mouth. We were brave, my grandfather tells me.

We were strong, my mother says. We were fast,

my waipo replies. Winged birds have always been the first

to flee. Which is to say that they were lucky.

Which is to say that their homes burned, instead

of their bodies. Which is to say that only

their shadows were torn for rags, only their rosewood

tables set to flame, pink-tipped and as sharp as light.

about the author