By Chengru He 何琤茹
remember the orange tabby in your old house? who knocked
on your door at five in the morning, came as he pleased but never
stayed. back then none of us knew about chongwu, pet, about ownership
of another life, or naming. we’d call every cat maomi, watching them
strolling in and out freely, napping in the sun. soon a maomi became two,
gave birth to small maomi. The little paws grew big in no time, disappeared
unannounced on a random day. soon the first subway line started running,
the old house was removed, you widowed. we keep one blurred
picture of the cat in the old house. I have forgotten our last hug,
as I stroll foreign streets, searching. it’s been
too long that I haven’t knocked on your door. I walk around and greet
whomever I encounter along the way. a cat and her autumn.
how’re the peonies on your balcony? sunlit
on the sixth floor, they’re used to construction
noise and radio waves. you’d prune stems
above the buds, paint blossoms on xuan paper
with thick red, by the pavilions and hills
you’ve never seen. chun feng you lü
jiang nan an–spring wind again greens
the southern bank, silently, leading your brush
with its hand. to turn a color into motion,
Wang Anshi casts our mind in a green direction
—green greens the blooming, our attention
on the page. the red sprouts take their time
to catch the eleventh century sun.
in your palm, the slowness of green.
I want to tell you about the sun, but where should I start?
trying to describe something you see every day. I’ve had more salt than the rice you’ve had, you’d say.
something rises day after day in the same direction, in nursery rhymes and songs, in the eyes that look for the light. never complains
about the world it sees. something bright, hot, glowing, but that could also be tender, red, caressing a brown leaf before it leaves the vine.
is there anything new I can tell you
about the world I see, the time I spend between sheets, new lands, new faces, old objects glorified by new terms?
or it doesn’t matter if I repeat myself, after the same greetings, saying aloud taiyang again, or tayang – closer to your native tongue. that my voice hasn’t changed
is all you care about. that I hear you, we touch through hearing. that between us the fifty-four years, the sun rises
and falls, resets the color of a gloomy night. generous
with its time, especially in the last lines.
Chengru He 何琤茹 is the author of a hybrid memoir I Would Vanish into Its Stronger Existence (Wet Cement Press, forthcoming 2024) and a book of poetry M O月 N (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, forthcoming 2025); the translator of two books of translation in Chinese. Her writing, translation, and multi-media work appear or are forthcoming in Alchemy Journal of Translation, Ancient Exchange, Defunct, Colorado Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, Speculative Nonfiction, Tint Journal, Unlikely Stories, and elsewhere. A former ESL teacher in Shanghai, she is currently a PhD student in Poetry at the University of Utah. More at chengruhe.net