Poetry: Travelogue: Chinese After-School by M. Ezra Zhang

M. Ezra Zhang takes us an exquisite and strange journey in which swallows hold trouts in their beaks. This poem, in a turn eventually unifying the you and the child of memory, portrays a relationship that evolves over time and distance through imaginative leaps.

Travelogue: Chinese After-School

I noticed that people grew like plants. Making paper airplanes
that descended, no matter how vibrant the wind, how birch roots
can only do what birch roots do: reach for the heart of the earth.
Then we swung back and forth toward heaven, pretending swallows
in flight, each kick on the swingset bringing us closer to the kind of light
that bursts open from a whole heart. Soon you had your pilot license and we
were descending into earth’s stratosphere (or ascending? It was hard to tell
from the window). You flew us blue Vegas. Then Toronto and
yellowgreen Bangkok and then finally the roof of our Chinese
after-school. I could see Andy below, pants soaked through
with the water balloons of summer—running frenzied, calling
a name (inaudible). I strained my ears, thought I heard
my own. But maybe it was the call of a swallow,
alive years ago, remembering the feeling of those syllables
in its mouth. Or a swallow with a trout in its beak (impossible,
I know), so crammed with slippery scale that its melody
became a bouquet. Once my band teacher told me
that to create fullness on the flute I only had
to imagine a bouquet of roses in my mouth. I did and felt
my lips turn golden wind—the sound of youth running
through a wind tunnel. And escaping on the other end!
Andy and the other kids ran wolf-packed around
the after-school yard, circumventing the influence of the stars
on the roof (us). They were in flight: we knew this clearly
because we were them once. You were Andy. You were
hurt. You like that Andy better? you said. And made
yourself a child before my eyes.

M. Ezra Zhang

M. Ezra Zhang is a queer Chinese American writer based in Brooklyn. A Best New Poets and Pushcart Prize nominee, they have attended the Tin House Poetry Workshop and been recognized by the Poetry Society of the UK. They are an MFA candidate at New York University and the creator of the Simp Alignment Chart. Read their work in Ninth Letter, Redivider, Salt Hill Journal, and other publications, or find them at mezrazhang.com.

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