April Li

we are walking down húnán road together
on a random saturday in july     the plane trees above us drip rain and unspoken
affirmations     i am thinking about water and how this city is obsessed
with it     is composed of it:

“south of the lake”

“east of the huángpǔ”

“upon the sea”

i am thinking of the river and how it is the lifesource of our city    how we pull
money and sustenance and our identity from its depths    use it to prove that imposing
and throaty french cannot contain     the smoothness of


i am thinking about how this place is constructed
from concessions     from patches of countries stitched
together     sediment split
up into settlements—

but also about how the water is pervasive.

it clings in the air and settles
heavy on our skin     we slosh along the waterfront of lùjiāzuǐ through puddles of yesterday’s
rain     new meters of glass running up the sky like we tried to get so far
away from the old wàitān that we had to cross the river to do it.

the unfamiliar skyline reminds me of the years that have burrowed     between now
and the last time i set foot on this side of the pacific ocean     of the decades
that stretch between one bank of the huángpǔ and the other.

is wet     the river is

what does it mean that we can bind together two halves
of a city     that the shining gold of the bund and the crawling
skyscrapers of the new financial district can be cobbled
together into a whole     because the body which divides
them is also their common denominator—
and what does it mean that we call this amalgamation beautiful?

i wonder if this logic still applies when the river becomes
an ocean     the districts,
continents     the city, a person.

you seem to believe so,
the way you cushioned me in a bed of water
before i even knew what it meant to be a child of any world
beyond that of your body     delivered
me into a place of oxygen and contradiction
with a flow of fluid     pored over my flaws
and my successes     sprinkled the salve
of attention on me after flooding my skin with your cutting
words in the hopes that your efforts would propagate
me into a proper young woman;
even now     at meal
after meal     pour me cups
and cups of
hot water

April Li is a first-year Journalism and English student from Connecticut. She is passionate about diverse books, em dashes, and Costco.