Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Follow the Pen (随笔)
After Jenny Xie

Six in the morning, grasping at sleepless knots. My fingers detach from their joints. My eyes unsocket themselves.

Out front, a pack of Marlboros hidden in the bushes. The cellophane already undone. September sits hot in my lungs. I hold it there until the embers extinguish in the rain, my metal jaw aching.

A talent for losing things. I cannot pick out its precise logic. Moving in diagonals across Charm City, I search for the money my grandmother had given me.

From the playground, I see every building in Kwai Fong. In the heat, their pastel facades made it autumn in my mind. Let the leaves fall.

Uncle Mao racing down a hill in a shopping cart. Uncle Wong holding his cane parallel to the sky, not letting it collapse over our heads. Two coins of different currency.

An old man sells umbrellas outside Flushing–Main Street station. Five dollars. A mouth opening his face how a cherry splits in the rain.

Over his birthday call, my father and I both decide to have our secrets. Give me a mouth that can lie.

In Sheung Wan, besieged by typhoon, we duck into a McDonalds and order dinner for three. The rain is elegant and continuous tonight. Floating just below the surface of the water. Two years later, her body pulled out from the bay.

Down the freeway, our fifteen-year-old Honda van sails, engine burning until our burden is light. My head rests on a throw pillow. My sister driven off into her own life. My parents whisper in the front seats, knowing I don’t understand.

Only the rain can quench our thirst, says grandfather who died a decade before I was born. Foolishness shall wring us dry once more.

Lingyin Temple’s many bodhisattvas. My father’s prostrations come in threes. We go row by row. I do not ask how he knows this behavior. Some things are learned purely as conduits for longing.

Sunflower seeds. Pockmarked leather furniture. New pastries each week. Splintered headstock of my guitar. Nothing is ever truly forgiven, but we have chosen to live. The front lawn groomed perfectly.

That summer I turned twenty, caught in a downpour, I stopped and let the rain pool into my eyes. If I had to overflow, I wanted the choice of when.

At least in Ginza, totally anonymous, peering into brightly lit restaurants and department stores. I walk all of Chuo Dori street behind a girl’s black cap, never seeing her face. I need to stop trailing the past, its smoldered wake.

My grandmother would fill our little bedroom with lullabies while cupping my knee, a tangerine in her palm.

The flower wants to leave its garden. Where is the right place to cut the stem?

Inside my calloused hand, I crush a sparrow and a Bauhinia, but the air remains thick with song, humming with fragrance.

Unable to swim since childhood, I almost drowned twice. Each time, clearly seeing the threads of fate tied around my ankle. All I knew was to follow. Before the crackdown, Bei Dao declared, I have left no testament / Only a pen, for my mother  

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