The Story; Xī’ān Nocturne with Jasmine and Pears; Demolished Landscape with Open Mouth; Memory in a Foreign Language; & Additionally, what freedoms have I been trained to deny myself?


Xī’ān Nocturne with Jasmine and Pears


I call my mother to tell her about a rare dream
in the first language:

               the fruit vendor’s miniature green pears 
               the soft juice I crave

               she pays but gets the wrong change 
               and I realize she can’t read the words 
               on the cardboard sign and doesn’t know 
               how much she is owed

she reminds me that the word for pear 
sounds the same as the word for leave
                             梨 (lí) and 离 (lí)
you’re telling me I paid too great a price
to leave, she says

inflected differently, 莉 (lì) is jasmine
               my mother’s namesake 

how do I tell her that a week earlier, leaving
my grandparents’ home, an ambush of jasmine 
stopped me on the sidewalk—small mouths 
muted with grime yet still sweet as a rain-
dipped stone
                              I plucked one  
tucked its velvet trumpet behind my ear

now half a world away 
               my mouth empties: 
every word sounds the same



Demolished Landscape with Open Mouth

for a friend, whose name, whose
face I no longer remember


when I was a child my family lived 
               in a building six stories tall 
                             and a field of wild grasses grew in front 
and in the field was a well with a heavy iron lid 
               that one day opened, left agape

so in the field there came to be a mouth 
               with a long throat full of rain, the husks 
                             of crickets and yellow dust, tiny bodies
the rain overpowered and when the wind blew 
               the mouth hollowed with sound

in the field you and I played with our fingers 
               pointed into guns, our elbows and knees 
                             patched in the loose camouflage of dirt 
we climbed my father’s red motorcycle 
               ticking as it cooled by the tall grass

here we rushed and tumbled
               straining against the other as if to break 
                             through to another life 
and the mouth in the field opened
               waiting for you to find it 


Anni Liu is a poet, essayist, translator, editor, sensitivity reader, and educator. Her work is published or forthcoming in Pleiades, Waxwing, The Journal, and elsewhere. Her honors include an Undocupoets Fellowship, a Katharine Bakeless Nason Scholarship to the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, and the 2018 Literature Award from the National Society for Arts and Letters for the best writing by a writer under thirty in the state of Indiana. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner and plants and works at Graywolf Press.