Ray Zhang

My grandma hands me a jade pendant

and there I sit, waiting for wrinkled hands 
to knit together like mating butterflies, waiting 
for fingers to find flesh buried behind 
cosmos of stygian hair and unclip gilded
plastic. As the final knot was set, 
she stares back in silence. 
Through our reflection 
I could almost hear my mother’s 
Mandarin tongue—

a little tiger jade for a lucky boy 
wash away all sins

as if she believed jade could wash teeth stained brown 
from jasmine tea, hide smells of father’s rice 
liquor, or stop golden rings 
from concealing into my skin.

I think back to summers in Beijing 
and Xi’an, where odors of ginseng and lotus roots 
drift idly through street corners. Afar, girls 
capering in gentle cadence, wrists bearing their 
mother’s jade bangles and ears flashing 
golden earrings. I hated those girls.

Some nights, as darkness trims the stain of dusk, 
I lie awake, body on voyage, wondering 
how a jade pendant could teach 
me to love when I know so little. 
Should I have tears in my eyes 
when I see that my mother has died?

Now I envy those girls, 
their mothers, 
and their pride.

Ray Zhang attends Troy High School; Zhang won the first place in the Charles Crupi Memorial Poetry Contest for Michigan High School students. For more information on the contest, please visit the Albion College English Department website.

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