“The Yangtze” by Kevin Gu

Kevin Gu (age 15)


The first time I dipped my toes in the Yangtze my mother
told me the story of Qu Yuan, a great poet
who drowned himself
along the branching twines of the river.
I laughed at her, split-grinned,
and submerged my legs anyway.
Later that night, I dreamt
of jasmine rice and zongzi.

Indigo means immensity. Mother cooked 麻婆豆腐 (Mapo Tofu) for me
when the winters were still long—the middle
stages of twilight at 5 PM. The rusty heater pumped
rivulets of smoky air,
scent lingering in my lungs like yinghua syrup.
Her calloused fingertips kneaded
my fleshy face while the rest of the world was quiet,
only us alone in the house.

Mouth gaping under the light-year skies. Taste
the moon’s perspiration, it tells me. It grips me.
They all want something,
the Yangtze said to me that day.
Mother stroked my burnt hair,
blackened soot on the thin skin of my undereyes.
Find yourself in the infinite
or it will drive you under
the currents.

The silky black felt frozen between my toes,
Chang Jiang was its other name. Mother told me
it meant long river. Long falling, long gone.
Fish nipped on peach-frosted skin as inward legs
held the weight of the horizon. The listless sky spun around
two axes, one centered above me another piercing
my side, asymmetric, indigo split like gears
grinding flaked sugar stars. My chest trembled,
eyes closed at the sight of the undertow.

Why did Qu Yuan drown himself?

The Yangtze answered, over
and over and over:

He yearned for the sky
and found the next closest thing.

from 2021 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Kevin Gu: “I write because the emotions that bottle up within me are too intricate to describe in a linear way. Poetry, specifically, helps me express my stories like the rolling of waves and the uncontrolled flow of water—infinite. Sometimes my writing is purely based on one experience and one emotion, and other times it’s an outlet for me to spread important messages that I believe in.”

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