my great-uncle who lives in tianjin tells me

no, he didn’t die / then, not when / they hung him / from that venerable, kingly
willow / in my mama’s garden, / the one with / the long, wispy leaves / which sang
so softly / in the springtime and birthed / delicately woven crowns / of jade in
summer. / they didn’t let him. / untied him / when his breath shorted. / they
wanted to watch / him suffer, yes, / and i remember / those laughs—more
bitter / than the worst / oolong tea, darker / than the murky pond which / i almost
drowned in / as a child, chasing / an old graying duck / who was far / wilier
than she looked. / do not believe / there is no sense / in a long-withered
duck. / they carry unspeakable / strength in their half-plucked / wings, a lifetime /
of shielding children / from jumping fish / who bite / and tear / and destroy. / they dragged
him / away, left / me staring, an empty long rope / like loose intestines / dangling from
a dying / willow tree. / the letter arrived / three months / later, / three months / after
i had scoured / hopelessly, tirelessly / for filling food / for a gentle hand / for
an answer, / in an official envelope, stamped / tender red, wet. after / three months, /
my answer came / in a curt sentence—your father is ready / to pick up. somehow, i knew /
just what / they had meant. / i memorized our address / for the forms, / brought the good
woolen blanket, / swallowed hard. / he was lighter / than i knew / him to be, less /
regal in death. / i felt the stiff bones / of his gaunt shoulders / jutting out / like a
dangerous prophecy. / i buried / my shoes / afterwards—they were too choked / with
dirt from the prison’s / blood-clouded floors. / he went under / the grand willow, / a tired
grimace upon / his face. / a duckling came, sniffed / at the upturned grass. at / renewal.

Kathryn Zheng is a senior at Tenafly High School in New Jersey. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the National Council of Teachers of English. Outside of writing, she enjoys learning languages (currently, her passions are Turkish and Spanish), immersing herself in the world of politics, and playing the ukulele.

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