i, like many poets, have wondered a million times what it would be like to be a bird: soaring high above the trees, unburdened by life's banal worries. something primal and free. 

only once, i have seen a bird injured, wings clipped. how losing flight must feel! a deep and vital wound, something more human than bird.

i wasn't raised for religion. every wednesday, i fell asleep during chapel

but without fail i woke up when the lights dimmed for the benediction.

our chaplain’s favorite poem was wild geese by mary oliver. 

my favorite wake-up call. i have always loved birds.


the last time my grandparents visited here with me, 

i was almost too young to remember that my 姥姥 always held me tightly 

in her warm right hand. i still remember her black-walnut-stained fingertips, 

her long thumbnails, the way she walked me, slowly, to the cornfield 

to watch the migrating geese land and peck together at purple ears of corn. 

look, 宁宁, she said. a family. family stays together. 

when my 姥爷 and her flew back home to china, the geese left for home too.

i wondered why they were all leaving me behind. 


mary oliver says you do not have to be good 

but i know to remember that if you scream and sob loud enough in the field 

you will scare the wild geese away.


now, years later, when i visit them, 

i feel disconnected. 外国人. i think about the life i could've lived

if we'd never left china: if we stayed, safe among the flock. 

but although we may look the same, 

i am now an ugly duckling stumbling over her words in a sea of well-spoken swans. 

perhaps i have a place in the family of things, but when 

the strings that tie you to your family have lengthened across the atlantic, 

slackening with every missed call and milestone slipped quietly past,

it is so easy to feel alone. a bird with no place in the v-formation. 

how much of love is purely proximity?


this fall marked the seventh there and back of the geese without my 姥姥

next to me, quietly watching. alone in the cornfield, i am a flightless bird 

calling out into the far-away fog for an answer. 

in the morning air, the geese cry out to the places they know their wings will never reach.

i too am sending a message to sea,

left on the answering machine among the breeze and salt, 

hoping she'll call back— love, love, love.

Posted in response to the challenge Mary Oliver.



16 years old

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