Poetry: “Semi-American Hightailing” by Vanessa Y. Niu

car driving on long road surrounded by yellow trees on either side. Text overlayed stating the title of poem and author's name: semi-american hightailing by Vanessa Y. Niu

“The heart, she seems to whisper, the heart never / stops marching. You are simply its feet.”

In this visually rich and evocative poem, Vanessa Niu aptly turns the revolution into a long road trip across state lines as we are called to question what we are really leaving behind.

Semi-American Hightailing

It is counter-revolutionary, the neighbor tells
me while at a friend’s holiday home in
the Berkshires, to stay in one place for too
long. I am farther away now and lipreading,
The heart, she seems to whisper, the heart never
stops marching. You are simply its feet. But
perhaps I am auto-completing, because
one winter’s morning many years ago I’d awoken
to an apartment barer than America’s agricultural
wastelands. And that is where we had fled, past
the corn fields and endless rows of wheat, spread
as though the sun had melted, slowly dripped
in thick faucet tears, and begun to congeal as
we drove and we drove. What it was we were driving from
I could not say for the same reason no one can say
why the universe is constantly expanding. The fear of
some unnameable infinity. And we drove and we
drove, the two of us Argonauts and the wheat rows
the waves. There was the threat of family behind
us of course and in irony I now look for family
everywhere—I searched for it between the neighbor’s
lips and I searched for it in the ground, a dog
looking for a buried bone, or a gravedigger looking
for her lover. And we drove. The cogs of the revolution
turn with the car tires. There was the revolution behind
us, dragging like a shadow stitched to each tread,
each grate of sand on cement or tarmac echoes
the sound of a heart crushed beneath a tank. In
that sense the car is the mouth of the monster
as well as the continental refuge that delivers us from
stillness—that was the curse, feet rooted in the
ground, No person may impede the advance of troops
enforcing martial law. Standing was
a sin. Sulfur in the air and the feeling of
asphyxiation. And we drove, and behind us
there was asphyxiation and heat death and the
slitted tongue and executions and the rat race and
clinically white apartment walls and church nakedness
and solar confetti and solstices. At our heels, the
heart, marching. So we drove.

Vanessa Y. Niu

Vanessa Y. Niu is a Chinese-American poet and classical singer who lives in New York City. Her poetry has been featured in The Amsterdam Review, Stonecoast Review, and more. As a studying musician, her focus experiments with poetry-to-music relationships and she has written text for the modern composition scene at Juilliard (NY and Tianjin), Interlochen (MI), and the Purcell School (London, UK). When not writing, she can be found at open physics lectures, a debate tournament, or playing chess with her friends, a jazz album as their timer.

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