vignettes from shanghai

cold wind, boundless moon. jet-lagged,
i am halfway across the world. it is quiet.
miles and miles away, you are eating lunch. i wonder
what you’re eating. here, everyone is asleep.
pull your cream curtains aside, crane your neck across balconies
and city skylines. the light flickers on and my grandma
smiles sleepily at me. whispers: ni e le ma—are you hungry?
i shake my head but she opens the fridge anyways and i shiver
despite the humidity. she hands me a plastic bag full of sweet buns
and pastries. i try to sift through it quietly but the plastic crinkles.
the suan mei tang cold against my lips,
the lingering taste sour in my mouth. she smiles again,
turns off the light. tell me
when this memory fades.

in this preserved square,
soft guzheng music exhales memories into remnants, melding
with street lights and night markets and people and mall speakers.
the gui hua blossoms drift, and my mom points at wrapped squares
of gui hua gao, tells me that my chinese nickname came from the flower.
i pluck a blossom off a low-hanging branch,
twirling the thin stem between my fingers.
they leave gold dreams scattered across the ground.

ferris wheel, skyscrapers, like the
eye of tianjin. warm metal under bare legs.
willow branches brush the river banks,
yellow warblers sing in the green leaves. cicadas hum
outside the window and my aunt asks me if i want
a milk popsicle or chocolate-caramel ice cream.
cinnabar silk and brocade intertwining.
the moon climbs up in the pavilion;
it’s time to leave, but you stay, anyways.

humidity dances around my skirt.
the smell of rain is bittersweet, heavy.
the plastic of the shopping bags cut into my palms,
leaving red lines. we step into a cake shop, homophonic with my name.
my mom tells me that when she gave me my english name,
grandpa immediately thought of the cake shop.
and my mom buys a slice, especially for me, she says, winks.
later that night, i unwrap the plastic wrapping slowly,
dig my fork into the cake my mom bought for me from my name,
eat it slowly. the taste of sugar disappears before the next bite.
the rain hanging in the air, the glass doors and the sunsets and cold air conditioning.
blurring the lines between memory and home.

shanghai nights: dreamlike.
neon lights flicker on yo-yos in pavilions, street vendors
selling helicopter-seed toys with lights. dozens of them launch into the air.
some fall into trees, peppering the branches with fairy lights.
a little boy cries; he hit his finger with the rubber band and lost his on the roof.
the fluorescent lights of the stores glow behind us.
the streets glow.
we spin into the sky like the plastic helicopter-seeds.

the smell of coconut in her hair
an orchid dream: the lan hua petals fall
and the fragrance lingers.
umbrellas bloom and fade. lights flicker in the distant, silent,
luggage wheels clicking on linoleum tiles.
the taste of sugar on the back of her hand, lingering, the keychain in her bag.
the candy wrapper in her back pocket,
the spicy tofu snacks she loves that her grandma bought for her.
hair ribbons, porcelain bells from street shops.

Kristine Ma is a high school junior hailing from Michigan. She received two national Gold Medals, six Gold Keys and several other regional recognitions from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, as well as the Best of Grade award. In the summer, she attended a creative writing master class at Northwestern University with poet Richie Hofmann. Her work is forthcoming from Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal. Kristine is the English section editor for her school’s academic journal and an editor for her school’s award-winning literary magazine, Spectrum. She is also on the creative writing team at The Incandescent Review. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing piano and oboe, hugging stuffed animals, watching anime, and dreaming.

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