​American Dream Abecedarian

Begins in this burning
Creek, where the golden sun descends to
Die. My tongue
Edges its red crescent between my lips. It is a dull
Flame rising from my soul, afraid to
Go down unheard. I
Hear the wild wind in the trees.
I—I—I stutter the jumper cables of my heart through my
Jagged teeth, my voice a twitching squirrel.
Kill my fear, I once told my parents, but none of us know this
Language, English.
Mother kills time by letting it pass her.
Nobody hears her turn on the bed.
Our arms are slick chrysalises by our sides.
Potentially this is my language.
Queen of walking with my head down and arms crossed. People
Read me as: hurt me. Punch me again. I am so
Scared to stand tall. I want
To return to Shandong,
Under that bridge where I grabbed a girl’s hand under
Velvet red sky. Our
Wordless breath overtook us then,
Xylophones of thin trees swarmed by wind. Our bodies two
Y’s—arms raised toward the cracks behind clouds.
        (In school, I learn to write ‘why’ . . . two silent letters
        until the | musters the strength to lift).
Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly, but was it a butterfly dreaming him?


Now I sink down into this creek.
            Fish flow over my head in red feathers,
in this realm no mind can touch.

ASHLEY GONG is the daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants and is an undergraduate English major at Harvard University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, The Harvard Advocate: Women's Issue, and elsewhere. In 2014, following her selection as a National Student Poet by President Obama's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, she performed her poetry for First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

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