The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Literature from Mexico City

Emily Zhang: 1 Poem Published

Poem by Emily Zhang (USA)

Published in The Ofi Press issue 41

Selected by Alberto Blanco as part of the Ofi Press/ YPN collaboration competition

 Image: "Smoke 1" by Jason Bolonski.


For a River


It begins when the morning air, heavy with silence,

turns viscous in the stream of cars. You wake up

past the firm grasp of the Atlantic, the pulse of shifted


time in the curve of your shoulder, eyes blurry with clockwork

and dawn. When you are in the market stalls woven

together like the roots of unshy mangroves, the wax


and wane of unfamiliarity, it begins—a stumbling

in your throat, your misaligned feet, the realization

that you cannot bury your longings in two different soils.


There are women, hair heavy with salt and August afternoons

who build fires with hands painted directionless. When

you place silver coins into their open palms, they land


and take shape as birds rather than as prayers. You have never

believed in god, but your faith flows heavy in dirt roads

where the noses of bicycles get caught like trout in nets,


legends of wide-eyed kings with crossbows, open

mouthed gourds stuck to rafts floating slow on the river.

When the venders offer you the lips of spiced papaya,


step into the eye of the storm. Understand the cured taste

of love—for the people’s hands you haven’t yet shaken,

the rich quiet of the mountains, your grandfather’s stories,


the paper wings of his cigarette smoke enough to fill lanterns.

Understand that these soft-armed vowels take form

in a language that does not yet move for you, the street signs


like unraveled ropes, the way a hand slips into a glove

and does not know how to call it a glove. You feel the ground

but not the synonyms, the fireflies, the ebb and flow


of the flames. When your grandmother cups your face

in her hands, liquid, when your name slides

like honey across the mouths of strangers, you will begin


to find the words, syllables stumbling across your tongue,

rocks down a hillside. You will call it home.

You will open your palms, pink with life, and listen.

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