Year of the Rat

by Heather Bourbeau

Before, I would seek comfort in Chinatown crowds.
Hong Kong milk tea, red bean swirls.
Elderly Chinese sharing news or jokes,
eating green onion twists, moon cakes,
drinking strong pekoe, weak coffee,
ignoring or welcoming me.

We were pressed close enough to feel
breath, hear secrets, smell the odor of long work
mixed with rising yeast, baking sugar,
to see the rough and grace of aging skin,
and welcome the ripple of another language
flowing over and through me in a faint promise
of understanding by osmosis.

I have not touched another human in five weeks.
I walk paths worn by new habits, alone or abreast,
two meters, two meters.
My heart has learned to calibrate hope, my mind
to avoid a longing, collective and deep,
to eat like lions and sleep like wolves. 

Heather Bourbeau’s fiction and poetry have been published in 100 Word Story, Alaska Quarterly ReviewCleaver, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and The Stockholm Review of Literature. She is the winner of La Piccioletta Barca’s inaugural competition and the Chapman University Flash Fiction winner, and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has been featured in several anthologies, including America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience and Respect: Poems About Detroit Music (Michigan State University Press). Monarch is her poetic memoir of overlooked histories from her American West (CA, NV, OR, and WA). Sally Lelong is a visual storyteller working in a variety of media that lend themselves to use in a conceptual framework. She lives and works in New York, and routinely exhibits her work in a variety of settings from print to thematic installations to street art.

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