under a city’s blue-air canopy, murky whistles can still fit themselves between disquiet & dissonance, sirens strumming alive & all the cicadas slow-singing. on nights like these we trace shadows on the sidewalk, eyes open wide for those who still scatter soot along our collarbones & call it conquest. call it glory. call it myth.
& they will syphon the salt from our bloodstreams, leave imprints of black oil on our skin, calcify us in carbon for timeless preservation. we will not know the shapes of bruises until they show themselves under streetlights, until we learn to cough & come up empty.
so i reimagine myself laid clean & bare in a field, open mouth hooked on bouquets of lilies. a phoenix rekindled in ash, stripping itself of tarred plumage. i wake instead on the living room floor of a beer-bottled apartment, mouth slick with the gloss of a red rose, & dance until the moon cleaves in perfect halves.
on cloudless nights we gather beneath the cliffside, scatter the pleas of our dresses across sandy dunes, tide reeling into the shore. watch how we catch prayers fallen from faceless mouths, unclasp forgotten elegies from our throats. how we realize how small we are in contrast.
today the streetlights dim themselves one-by-one as we take the long way home. i bite the inside of my cheek, blood welling under my tongue, the music in my earphones not loud enough for me to unhear the city. a plea falls astray between the asphalt’s cracks: let us relearn the shapes of ourselves, recapture names on our own tongues.
Katie Tian is a sixteen-year-old Chinese-American writer from New York. Her work is published in Frontier Poetry, Polyphony Lit, Rising Phoenix Review, and Kissing Dynamite, among others. She has been recognized for her writing by Hollins University, Smith College, the Adelphi Quill Awards, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Apart from writing, she enjoys collecting stuffed animals and consuming obscene amounts of peanut butter straight from the jar.
Artwork by Saki Onoe