Photography, Poetry, Words
Comment 1

calls from Beijing

Poems written by Cindy Song
Photos taken by Brandon Yung

Long-ago memories, ones that last from generation to generation. Glimpses of a childhood past. Sorrows of the estranged ancestral motherland, China. Cindy Song finds herself somewhere in between.


Beijing once told me to choke myself with her iron
limbs and thick smoke. Willow trees bending in the
wind, calling for justice. They call for a place that is
much too big for all of us. Suffocating us, I’m afraid

of being swallowed by the mass of concrete and stinky
exhaust and people passing in, out, like seconds hands
of detonation clocks. The streets and I hug each other,
jaded sun glinting off bone buildings, secretive glints.

I think this is all I know—drops of laobing popsicle on
sidewalks, rows of bicycles in the breeze, wet underwear
twisted around clotheslines. My grandma straps bamboo
netting to beds to keep the mosquitos out, thirsty for blood.

Look, I don’t know whether to call this place home like my
mother does or just another destination on the map. I want
to sit inside a steamed pork bun to feel the walls of its soft
bloated flesh—maybe this is what they call regeneration:

being born into something too familiar, something too foreign.





My mother dyes her hair rust brown to hide the
tiredness seeping into the roots. She sighs that it’s
been over twenty years since she left China with

little more than bright eyes & two luggage bags,
heavy only with hope. Her eyes are dull now, the
warm years washed away like stones tumbling
down a fast & unstoppable yellow river. Stirring
steamed egg dough soup in the pot, she tells us to
treasure our skin—the canvas of youth yet to be


eroded by years of rain like hers was. She recalls
days as a girl scrubbing underwear on a fat wood
block, wind so bitter it sucks marrow deep from the

cracks in the backs of her hands. Water spiked clear
red, tainted by strangers’ fumes. When I was five,
a delusional cousin cut me with scissors, she says,

parting her wintry hair to reveal a jagged light pink
scar. Ten stitches, she laughs, but her eyes are full
of sadness. The family she was forced to leave on

the other side of the world; days on a farm playing
with chickens, one of which, her favorite, who died
‘cause it was her birthday & she fed it too much cake.

It is almost another life: another shengming, she says
at last, turning to face our mounted TV with three-sixty
surround sound. Sounds of a Chinese drama run in the

background, filling the room with cries & clashes of
another century. The echoes of a past life, of multiple
& parallel livesI wonder what they were. Who the

cousin was. Who my mother was. Who I am now.


Cindy is a high school junior who lives in Rockville, Maryland. She has loved creative writing ever since elementary school, when she wrote stories about magical underwater dolphin kingdoms. She writes to capture the simple beauty of life in words. In addition to writing, she likes going out for walks, sketching still life, and catching up on her favorite shows.

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