Three Poems

by Gavin Yuan Gao


Boy in a landscape of snow & carnage

Winter cocoons our cabin like a bride-to-be’s dream 
of lace. In the fireplace,
tinder I spent days gathering hums a serenade of light 

& ash. Against my nose, his breath unfolds as a white dahlia.
These hours are not built 
to weather much, even though there’s so much in this world 

I want to hold close: myrtle berries, rhododendron, sunlight 
latticed & cool as fish scales,
& his body rocking above mine—greased with desire on the verge 

of drizzle as he enters me patiently, melodic as a sea. Later, 
as we lie on the mattress
shiny & accomplished, he’ll touch the goldfield of my skin

the way snow out the window touches the carcasses of cattle 
until it covers all the wounds 
& bones left to rot, which no bird of prey could comb clean

with its beak, & covers, however briefly, the unmistakable pain 
of the herdsman who buries
his face in his hands waiting for the tears to come, & covers,

too, all that trembles & gleams in the field—with or without 
triumph—in the aftermath of love.

Whenever I recalled the sunset in the eyes  

of my first love, a hummingbird would drop a green feather
onto a small, inland sea the size of my mother’s vanity 

mirror, & the mango tree in front of our house would sneeze 
twice before it rains mangos onto the roof

of my father’s car, over our lawn, into outstretching arms
until the crushed yellow of it all reigns over 

the roofs of our mouths. Chunks of sweet flesh pulled
under the tongue’s soft rug. Even the sun

tasted lush on our fingertips. What we build with our palms, 
with our hearts, we tear down with the same. 

My heart was built with the same muscle that made the wing
of an angel — its boisterous orchestra in full 

swing, its red poppy swaying violently on a tall stalk that day 
as your mouth offered then withdrew 

from mine all that a boy could know about withering, how 
it was not lava but love that made Pompeii

fall. & what I would give to make tenderness stay the way desire 
once held my tongue hostage, my lip a singed 

skirt, a scorched field, a fruit split by god’s dirt-cracked hands. 
When I recall now the smithereens of sunset 

in your eyes—how you closed them slowly, I no longer think about 
ruins. I just shut my eyes as the dark presses 

its cool trillium against the wind in my mind. When I open them
the silence that wrecked my chest is still your empire.


The darkness from our old house 
has outwitted us. It has caught a whiff of iron 
& rust from the blood in our hoof prints & followed 
us all the way here. Stranded on the sunken 
edge of the motel bed & drowning in the tide 
of your own sobbing, you beg to be spared 
in your fitful sleep, like a wounded deer 
begging the arrow with its meek eyes, one step 
away from falling off the precipice; like the canary 
struggling to tear itself free 
from the tightening grip of a lovable giant, who only 
fell for what he isn’t & will never be—if not for the song, 
then the feathered weightlessness; if 
not for the morsel of air in its petal-
sized lungs, then the muscled architecture 
of flight & distances. I’m no archer, nor am I 
immense as the promise of the sky 
after a tempest, so why all this hysteria, the collapsed 
breath like a cathedral crumbling in fire? 
As I stare down the double-barreled night,
I can see for once the wreckage 
I’ve wrought upon this gorgeous land
-scape: the sand on the skin of your neck that collects 
on my tongue until each grain is undressed, sweat 
filling the shallow basin of your collarbone—a small dock 
where the boat of my hours waits unmoored 
& capsizes as I try to console you with the nocturne 
of my hands: See, you’re not the only one who’s 
drowning. So whose light obscured the telling? 
Whose prayer mottled the waves as the bones 
were washed in? They say you can’t kiss a man 
without uprooting the blessings his mother 
has sown in his skin. I can just picture 
my mother frowning in heaven, disapproving 
of the dishonorable flesh I’ve chosen to bury 
my faith in, though I’d rather believe in a heaven 
where we are safe from the goodnight kisses of night
-club bullets, safe from memories 
of our shame-scorched cheeks, unhaunted 
by what we aren’t & will never be. But this 
is a night on Earth no more extraordinary 
than the billion ones before, where the wind 
unwinds our words & rules the absence of our speech, where 
the voices in our throats die like the last flicker 
of a rescue ship. Obscene, obscene, the wind carves 
its judgment in the bones behind our ears, yet I know 
that I’d still trade the shore
for the sea’s rough mirror, and how,
like two faithful, bruised animals,
the night & I will beg to be entered 
again & again & again.  


Writer’s BIO:

Gavin Yuan Gao graduated from University of Michigan with a BA in English and Creative Writing. His writing has been highly commended in the 2018 SLQ Young Writers Award and has received a Pushcart Prize nomination. His work is forthcoming or has appeared in The Journal, New England Review, Hobart, Sundog Lit, Dunes Review, wildness, and elsewhere.