Teen Sequins 2021: Sophia Liu, Age 15
40th Road Flushing
October nights, men on crates smoke until
dawn. Blankets of air
drop in temperature, graze your fishnet stockings, mini skirt,
Not long ago, Ma told me that you were
waitresses, and that I should become accustomed
to women standing by.
Hand clasped with hers, we walked
through these human-scented streets, past
mango stands and
falafel trucks drowned
in perspiration. Where LV bags are bought
on bed sheets strewn out on the sidewalk, every mouth is
a sprig of aglaonema in need of its own sun.
She calls this
people mountain, people sea. To touch is
If bodies were made to ripen, like apricots hanging
by the strongest branch of the tree, then
a hand would come to cup you
down and flesh
But you are no younger than
my mother—veins thinning,
body meat pulling apart with each month. Should I call
you auntie? Should I eye you as Ma grabs
my wrist, tells me that
this is why I need to study.
Soon later, down these streets on my own, recognizing you became
a task of counting chickens.
My mother set foot
on this gum-stamped cement, calling it a dreamland. And you--
gashed open by foreign hands—what is it like looking
at yourself alive? What is it like being startled awake from a
I thought a soul must either be starved
or unsparing to take in such undisclosed shapes. Yet you
hens awaiting farm dogs, more willful
than any expect
us to be.
December enters like a cage and the moon as the
first split of light from the clover fields.
Your coats drape down to your ankles; you exchange
fishnets for leggings. The east wind sprinkles you
familiarity, though love is no longer felt by warmth.
This time last year, a body crashed down from a
four-story building. Gravity dragged her
red scarf taut against her neck—and as always,
prevailed. And so, another one of you lost
a butterfly crushed into its
shadow. 40th Road persists in its
cloudy fish tanks and ginseng stalls—every fruit truck,
burnt taro bun, waiter taking a smoke
at the mercy of the
wet pavement. Each overripe nectarine pulped
by a thousand footsteps bearing the wind until shriveled, and still,
Here I am:
four-limbed and vigorous enough to know
that we are not
all that different. All we do is
give. All we do is sleep under the same static sky and nod
when Mama tells us that one day, she will be gone—so we
must work harder now—and do we not?
This coldness aches everyone.
You are not any more alive than Ma in her pencil skirt.
However planted on the concrete--
hold out like a jade cong.
Sophia Liu lives in New York. Her poems and artwork appear or are forthcoming
in the Perch, Storm Cellar, the Ekphrastic Review, Whispering Prairie Press,
Underblong, the Shore, and elsewhere. She has been recognized by the National
Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the NCTE, Smith College, and Hollins University.
She wants a pet cat.