subway boy

suppose a brown-skinned boy walked
to the scratched-up vegan glass at the place you
work with soft light in his tree bark eyes and talked
about how a redwood grows from a sapling,

wiry and sharp-limbed with a desire for
cotton hair. suppose his fingers were soft as
the kiss of a passing breeze and he took

a rifle and shot his own reflection
in the throat, self-silenced for the sake of peace.

instead, he asked about the price. handed you his credit card,
and it just felt like regular reptilian skin,
his fingers, warm and curling against yours, the black
subway cap brimming the middle of his forehead. and

he knows nothing about redwoods except that they’re trees made
with rusted-savored bark just like his eyes and—listen.
there is no familiarity here, understand? he, alien face soft

with angles. he, distant war-provoker, flicking sparks onto

tight-barreled gunpowder to see wet, carmine fireworks. he
who spoke with tongue gilling with teeth, suckling
on the image of recognition when there was none. a mirage in
the middle of a sinking peninsula. you can

try to coax yourself: it’s the mask. this is not
a same-face microaggression. this is not malign.
it is not, it is not, it is not, it is not, it is—

and you don’t know whether to hate him or
not because he left a two-dollar tip.

Sandra Lin (林诺晨) is a Chinese American born in Manhattan, New York, who currently attends Bell High School in Florida. She is a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Gold Medalist, national winner of JUST POETRY!!!, the first-place winner for the 2021 Polyphony Lit Fall Contest and the 2022 Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest, as well as a finalist for The Lumiere Review’s 2022 Prose Contest. Sandra is working on The Heima Project, a platform that aims to empower marginalized voices in literature. To be a part of this project, contact her on Instagram and Wattpad (@sandranuochen) or her website:

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