, or Memory as a Water Language

— Gavin Yuan Gao

At the beginning of every world: a yearning
like the twitching of a seed, awakening

into a keen, green filigree. So it seems
I’ve dreamed of my own genesis

but it’s only the scent of the sea tugging
like a child’s insistent fist at the tangled

yarn of my breath. I feel the fresh salt stippling
my lungs crystalline, those pink wings

wheezing as I test the shore—bright veins
of geode gouging the soles of my feet.

I think of how , the Chinese word for sea,
depicts a mother with a sunhat, her face misted

by droplets of foam & spray. How memory—
of origin, of kinship—is always tethered

to water. Womb. Sky. A ribbon of sunset
purpling the edge of the known world. How

my own mother, still alive then, taught me
to write the sea in a language I’ve half-forgotten,

chalking the strokes on a pebble she’d palmed
carefully to clear away the muck: .

A water language. A hidden well-spring
that murmurs the first light into being.

It was as if she’d given the stone a tongue
to speak with, a poor muted thing licked smooth

& abandoned by the waves. The train that took me
here to the mouth of the sea has returned

to collect me. One remembers. One
forgets. The past never truly abandons us.

Read more from Issue No. 21 or share on Twitter.