Liwen Xu

Reborn in a Second Language

my mother feeds me bitter melon in spoonfuls
calls it by its english name
instead of kǔ guā.
she peels rinds over my tears
until i forget the mandarin too.

i was two when she left
         three on the plane over
         four when my memories began.

they unfurl into virginia pines and white christmases
jingle bell carols echoed like national anthems
ringing till my voice wore thinner
than paper boats
invented overseas.
i could be paper inside the house
     lighting paper lanterns
         lifting paper music box
   devouring paper dumplings,
  a porcelain paper doll.

when my footsteps land on crunching snow
the sheets crinkle too, and the acoustics are lost with the lamplight.

to ask where i’m really from is to ask
do paper cranes ever dream of flight?

the answer, like a shield:
of course
far away
but does it really matter?

Liwen Xu is a writer based in the SF Bay Area. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boulevard, Waxwing, Sine Theta Magazine, Mangrove Journal, and more. She is a graduate of the Tin House Summer Workshop and a fiction reader at The Rumpus. In her free time, she’s frequently running park trails, exploring new pockets of cities, and curating a haiku food Instagram @bon_appepoetry. You can find some of her work at or @liwendyxu on Twitter.