Gavin Yuan Gao

1999, or The Year of Mulberry

for my mother

The year the shadow grew ravenous
!50!& made a kingdom of your bones

The year I finally mastered the art
!50!of bike riding without the training wheels

The year I was told the mulberry tree you
!50!& Dad had planted in front of our home
!100!!5!wouldn’t live past June

The year the sea rose & for three weeks
!100!!5!all the lamb in my dreams had coats
!50!matted with salt flakes

The year of short-lived winter, though it snowed
!100!for months in our hearts as we gathered
!50!around your bed at the hospital

The year a rare asteroid chalking its way
!100!!5!across our galaxy was named
!50!after a Golden Age starlet
who was immortalized for her love
!200!!10!!5!of the spotlight

The year that stood like a wrought-iron gate
!50!between the new millennium & the public
!100!!5!cemetery where they laid
you to rest, where even in death
!100!!5!you were self-effacing—your head
!50!a tufted pillow for the milkweeds
!200!!10!!5!to sleep & dream on

The year the mulberry lived, whose
!50!chain-mailed fruits Dad & I spent a whole
afternoon collecting in a bamboo basket
!100!!5!but neither of us wanted to eat

The year I lost my treasured bike but didn’t tell the sea

The year I allowed myself
!50!to miss you & only told the mulberry
as I stroked its dry bark, its mottled leaves
!100!!50!!10!knuckled by a loose wind
!50!freckling my cheeks with the sun’s warm coins

as if it was the only one who’d grasped
!50!what I didn’t say
!100!!5!couldn’t say (for loss was still the coppice
that lay beyond the border
!50!of my young tongue)!25!!10!!5!& grieved with me

Gavin Yuan Gao graduated with a BA in Literature and Creative Writing from University of Michigan. His writing was highly commended in the 2018 SLQ Young Writers Award and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His work is forthcoming or has appeared in New England Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, wildness, Hobart, Bodega, and elsewhere.