Jewel Cao is a student in grade 11, living in Vancouver,
BC. Her work appears in Contemporary Verse 2, and
has been recognized by the Poetry Society in the UK.
On a Retreat, I Go Technology-Free
Inside the window, a man
on fire. This was not as surprising to me
as you may think. That morning, I saw a crow
perched on the windowsill, feathers bright as a beetle's
carapace in the sunlight. I went to note this down
but it disappeared while my head was bent.
When I looked up again, there was nothing there
save for the shadow of a stop sign on the grass.
We had just revived
ourselves from winter with a wet gasp
and the sound of cuckoos nesting in our throats,
so when I saw the man burn I was not surprised.
More than anything, I was curious as to what would be
inside him, when his bones were exposed
and purged of secrets.
I folded his ribcage aside, daintily as if
it were a sheet of samite or a square of Victorian lace.
No need to disrespect the dead, after all.
In the cavity where his heart should've been,
there was a little pocket mirror, ringed with purple
wisteria, licked with lipstick and fire. A little
mockery of Eden. Inside the mirror, my own eyes
stared back at me. Inside my eyes, a window.
Inside the window, the charred bones of a man
who was once on fire. I watched him burn. And
tell me, where else did you think this was going?
I Have Mastered Metaphor
At sixteen, I live in a city bus.
Since buses are mostly unmagical
during the day, I wake
only at night, like the band of raccoons
that used to skulk around my backyard,
behind garbage cans and purple-bellied petunias.
My bus is unlike anywhere else on Earth.
After dark, the lights come on,
blue as an aquarium fish tank, blue
as bioluminescence seeping through a toddler's
clenched fist. It's more beautiful than any alien planet,
more timeless than any injury.
Since this is not a temporary arrangement—
in fact, I would call it a mutual belonging—
I split and subsequently name each self-devised
section, as I have been taught to do
to the things I love. Thus, my bus becomes a collection
of left ventricles, orange segments, streets without end.
I've always thought that cars look like anglerfish,
swimming by. I've always thought
you can believe anything you put your mind to.
Years ago, I named relativity my God.
It gets harder every night
to differentiate myself from my circumstances.
After My Body
There is air whistling between the teeth
of this poem. In three attempts, she
will try to capture it, in the way people bottle
the smell of orange flowers on the wind
and anoint themselves with the perfume—
a reminder of a childhood before rain.
She will describe the summer that surrounds it—
for example, the hummingbird in the backyard that tried
to match the tempo of its own heart beating and rose,
wingbeat by wingbeat, out of its iridescent shell.
She will describe the circumstances of its birth—
pulled from her lungs by palms that have scooped
out the insides of clocks, bones and roe and all.
She will describe herself, how she tried methods
and tricks such as capitalizing everything,
which she felt might tether things to the earth
as well as it tethered sentences onto her snowy abattoir
floors. But even when light became Light
she could not capture it, and it slipped away
like a sleek fish under her windowsill,
laughing at her in both particle and wave.
She was a girl caught beneath waves.
Though she felt heavy as a crane
her bones were hollow and thin as a magpie's,
and when the saltwater entered her, crossing tissue
and lung, a dead canary washed out from her mouth.
When she was young, she tried to reach infinity, but succeeded
only in approaching it infinitely, and lying in her bed
trying to connect to some wellspring she was sure existed,
she felt her body expand, thinning until you could see the stars
through it, until a thousand little beaks
pressed like seeds against her skin, and even now,
when she tries to put her hands around herself,
through the gaps between her fingers.
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