Back to Issue Forty-Two

Elegy for Childhood

BY AMY WANG

 

Brother, you were always the best at playing hide
-and-seek. But now you have fled so far down

the sidewalk, and not even the creeping throat
of the evening can find you. In the car, our father

is so silent his breath sounds like a lisping step
on the lowest step of the staircase.

It is so early that everything looks sleep-touched,
like a photograph smoothed over by the cutless

hands of time. I cannot remember the last time
I was packed this tightly into my mother’s arms;

perhaps it was after I learned my first English word,
or before I spoke your name in Mandarin for the last

time. This is what I think about between
dreaming — light as it slips past the hingeless

sweep of the windows, beyond the fields of white
smoke and all the ghosts they will never have

the room to forget. The woods spark golden against
the back of my eyelids, and your leaving flows out

into the tumbled sunlight. Brother, where are you now?
The last time I saw you, we spoke of the memories

we made when we were children, every shard
of recollection clenched tight in our fists. The gaping

mouth of fish as they nibbled at our toes in the creek,
how we both came up for air at the same time,

lungs bursting. Brother, I asked, do you remember
the way you used to cry at night? The way skinned

knees stung before they bled, blood settling in grass
like the most saltless kind of kiss. The way we

crouched in the bushes, rattling ourselves awake
with every cry of the seagulls. In the dry Earth,

your face was warm with sleep. How I loved you,
then. How I love you, still. Your body makes a home

of deadwood and the wet cleaving of a eulogy,
and still, I cannot make sense of this. Standing

with your shadow, I wish I was ten years old,
with all my questions unanswered. Brother,

what color was the sky when you stepped
over the threshold, knowing it was the last goodbye?

 

 

On this side of the highway,

BY AMY WANG

 

I am never alone but I am always restless.
Two cities ago, I trained myself to lose
the accent on every other word, and now
my mouth is striated, language hung for
its skin. The funny thing about Ohio
is that no one cares about your tongue,
not if you sink into the fields like the greenest
kind of ghost. The funny thing about Ohio
is that everything is perpetually on time,
perpetually smoothed over by the grain
of a wheel. In the afternoon, I seek
the buzz of a garnet junebug as it eludes
the mouth of geese. I call my mother so I
can hear her voice inside mine, and somehow
my speech therapist says this is an inadequate form
of practice. But who is she to tell me this?
What is the midwest, if not for another name
for eternity? Here, the summer comes in waves
of evergreen, a lake lapping open-mouthed,
seeking more than the shore. I make space
for her absence on the seat next to mine,
and other passengers fill it, with their smoke,
or sound, or silence. The corn settles thickly
over each field — snow-like, grieving, hardened
out of the shells of a colorless sky. I count
the horizon for pinpricks, wait for the view
to settle or solidify. Somehow, every small town
reminds me of my mother; there is such sorrow
in the way each house folds over in the wind.
Even now, I wonder at the willow trees,
at the backcountry and all it leaves in the front
yard. There is a kind of tentativeness to this leaving
— foreign heat, familiar, at once too soft
and too hard against the back of my neck.
Here, there is something headstrong
about the wetlands, how they cave and cave
and never once ask for passage out west.
Here, I wait for a greyhound that is taking
its time to come.

 

 

Amy Wang is a writer from California. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the New York Times, and Columbia College Chicago, among others. When she’s not crying over fanfiction, you can find her translating Chinese literature, coding, and taking long walks.

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