Elegy on a Train, 1867
During the American Gold Rush, Chinese immigrants underwent back-breaking labor to build the Transcontinental Railroad. They often had the most dangerous work for the least pay, and were abused and whipped for protesting. Hundreds died from explosions, accidents, and disease.
Transitive property places the blade to my throat. I am
going from or to somewhere, afraid to go
to sleep, the boxcar lurching beneath me like a
punctured ship. Can you get seasick in the
middle of America? As in, do you know what it’s like
being unmoored? Because I do. Bodies lining the tracks
under my body, bodies imported in bulk. Bones soft,
nails hard, skin yellow in all the same
places as mine. Bodies gilded and hollow,
Hollow like the insides of the earth after the fact
of playing Russian Roulette with any mountain –
so many ways for a body to bloom around pain.
Hurry, darling. Don’t want the yo-yo string severed
too soon. Dime-a-dozen wasn’t supposed
to mean you. You, gorging honey before the asp strikes.
You, faceless and two-faced – A hundred blank
-faced stunt doubles with no history. As in, so many
ways to martyr yourself for a land that doesn’t love
you. As in, every gold-plated exhale a plea for a home
forgotten for the opium seller next door.
Mine country is the hunter that fattens cows
before milking them dry. Where freedom and
blood are two sides of the same dime.
How fascinating that the safety brochure says
we’re all in this together.
Film Starring Bad Protagonist
I am the magician’s rabbit – I
watch me reach down my throat
& pull myself out again and
again, some marionette puppet
puppeteered by hidden hands.
Every time they jerk up, a
Russian nesting doll springs out:
good daughter doll good friend
doll good talker doll good, good
night because I’m tired & I want to
dig my own burrow for once. I dream
of meat turning on spit, the raw scent
of it. Its ghost nearby thinking of
which part of its own body to eat first. I
dream that I stand in the center of a
room & don’t feel vertigo. I’m asked how
my day was & I say something clever,
& interesting. I don’t hear my name
being called because the cocktail party
effect doesn’t exist in this universe.
In the film, there’s a slight time-
lag, my limbs half-a-second behind the girl
onscreen until her pirouette becomes a
noose drawing tight around my neck.
I, dog biting tail. I, pointless
and circular. I, unable to taste
sweet things for myself.
The children point and laugh when
the end credits start rolling. At
the end, there is no applause.
Nicole Li is a rising high school senior at Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China. Her writing has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the New York Times, and can be found in Eunoia Review and Polyphony Lit, among others. She enjoys making lists, discovering new podcasts, and petting other people’s cats. She hopes magic finds you today.