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Nicole Li

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.

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