» Poetry

There They Are

my mother, my father. Her skinny
blue wrists, his ear caressing a cigarette.     In the beginning,
it is already too late,    but there is hunger & no time
to waste.    All they need are six hands, three mouths, a clockwork
yearning for locks of their own, windows square & fresh.    In the beginning,
my cry breaks my father, who flushes red at my fall, opens my face in search
of his mother.          Grasses, grasses on a country
road, hawthorn up to their waists,
aflame.     The crying of no mothers.  Temple bells hung
by the wind.    An October without moons,
a feeling I’ve been here before.  Dew on the page.
Windows billowing   wax paper.
Fall’s charred eyelids.     Toes pressing down my own wet
imprint.    Begin the world without a bang.
Water, air,   the Earth split into an egg,
elements halved for light.      No mothers, just two figures on a bicycle
for one.   A sweaty country road. Stoves that won’t start,
boxes of damp matchsticks.     Strain of a blue wrist
untucking cigarettes from his lips
prayer of hands inside the ashes of mothers,
single finger curving to a hush.    Careful,
hold the glass up to one eye, split the nucleus
with the other, explosions muted by winged lungs.
Put down my pen.    Unfold my eyes.  Count backwards
before legs, before longing, until I hit a snag in the web,
open,   to find my palm full of tears.
Once, there were no mothers. Trace the outline,
one, two, build a family from hunger.                   Listen, a cry, mine,
dragging her mother’s last breath up the jagged washboard as he soaps
my throat clean, baptizing his mother’s blackened lungs.
My mouth opens       to wake their beginning & just like that
blesses our downfall.
There, stretch the canvas, spread oil thin-thin
into our crevasses, what’s that in the distance?       No mother,
not the moon,      just six hands bent over a clock face with no opening,
porcelain spoons    raised to another’s lips,    tap – tap we widen
our insides until ink forks our edges.        In the beginning,
an October without night. Windows torn
open with flashlights. Hawthorn dawning a mother’s last breath.
Let me begin   again,


JinJin Xu

JinJin Xu is a writer and filmmaker from Shanghai. "There They Are" was selected by Sally Wen Mao as a finalist for the Poetry Society of America's Cecil Hemley Memorial Award. She is also the 2020 recipient of PSA's George Bogin Memorial Prize. Her hybrid work can be found in The Margins, The Common, Berlin's Harun Farocki Institute, and NYC's Immigrant Artist Biennial. A former Thomas J. Watson Fellow, she is an MFA candidate in poetry at NYU, where she received the Lillian Vernon Fellowship and teaches ballet/poetry workshops. Her chapbook There is Still Singing in the Afterlife won the inaugural Own Voices Chapbook Prize and is forthcoming in November.