starfruits drop, yellowing
into the ground, into our stomachs
into our ankles & toes, twinning
into our chest cavities. Stars
rooting inside of us, texturing
to contextualize the constellations
we drew & swallowed onto bodies
slick with summer heat & sweat.
We wouldn’t believe it looking back
but it was more sweet than sour,
we wavered in sync in a way that only
the intersection of childhood
and independence can gnaw
into adulthood. This is a delicate time.
Shifting smoke, bark, cocoa seeds
onto the palm of our hands,
we did not know what we prayed for
only that we could shape & mold
our lives easily with the jut
of our hips swaying, hair streaked
with huito juice, electrifying
our way into the river, clay
squishing between toes, smeared
onto our faces, masking everything
& anything & nothing. We did
not know that there was something
to hide from. All we knew was
the best hiding places were ones
worth exploring even at the risk
of getting lost, finding nettle
in our underwear, losing our rings
bartered for so little that we celebrated
losing parts of ourselves in the earth
that we crowned ours. In dreams,
we walked in the shadows
barely crossing. In reality,
we ran barefoot across
a childhood we didn’t
realize was ours.
When the snow falls with glitching anger,
they pull on winter clothes, ready themselves.
You can’t hear dawn breaking. Only that
sharp snap of shear on apple branches.
This cold pulls in grayness, unraveling wind.
Sometimes they count horas, minutos,
segundos. Sometimes just rows without
end. There’s no telling which is worse.
Each day worked down to salt. Sure,
there is merciful momentariness.
Pruning to harvesting. Hail to heat.
Pain in the back migrating to shoulders.
They never think back to imaginary borders or cities
paved with gold. They stare at callouses, ask me
what they should do with no options. Already,
they know that nothing stops earth’s rotation. Already,
they know there is no winning. But it is a game.
In three years’ time, which one of them will be
deported. These are those questions
They are never meant as options
Who will tell me which is worse.
Ellen Zhang is a physician-writer who has studied under Pulitzer Prize winner Jorie Graham and poet Rosebud Ben-Oni. She has been recognized by the DeBakey Poetry Prize, Dibase Poetry Contest, and as a National Student Poet Semifinalist. Her works appear or are forthcoming in Chestnut Review, The Shore Poetry, Hekton International, and elsewhere.