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Two Rolls.

 The only way to ferry mementos
unnecessary for survival to a new place
was to make like the farmer in that riddle, with his chicken,
fox, and sack of grain: trip after trip, mindful
of the logic things have, the fox eats the chicken
eats the grain, the canoe not too steady.
             Hint 1: remember always to bring
             something back with you, for perishables
             like photographs and diaries and letters should not
             be left alone with an appetite like time's.
I began with baby pictures, a small me sitting
in a metal crib pulling a hat off my head,
a plastic roly-poly righting herself
before turning back to flesh, falling over.
I wasn't going to carry more, not that time, I hadn't planned
for the envelope of contact sheets
I found, two rolls, developed
in a workroom and cut by hand.
Seconds plucked from the ordinary-divergent and set down
in two-inch squares whose existence tugged at
the loose end of chaos as a doll-like toddler propped up against
a cushion, not something to turn your back on.
             Hint 2: learn how to make room. Imagine you
             returned to shore to find the chicken pecking at gold
shavings.
             Eye the water line of the canoe. Make do.
             What you cannot leave behind, you must carry.
My uncle who taught me the riddle said,
I've been thinking--
Shouldn't.
Don't.
Leave it.
Not worth it.
Maybe not: but my growing older was proof
enough that I had once been
small, I was possessed of past, of big eyes and wet hair
and puckered lips. What need then for baby pictures?
Having left means the calculation of what
was worth it had been run and the answer was leaving.
             Hint 3: argue for what you want. Then, because
             it is your uncle, call your father.
             Let them persuade each other. To do what you want
             to do, work both official and unofficial channels.
The official word came down.
Unofficially this was what I would have done
all along: slide the envelope
into my notebook, into my backpack, onto the plane
under my seat, against the side
of a cabinet in my bedroom.
I take them out sometimes and count the people. Didn't you fear
that it would be a discontinuity? Didn't you fear
that it would turn out not to be? I show it
to nobody, that voracious amnesia about to unhinge time's jaw.

He Xiang lived in Beijing as a child. Other poems from this series have appeared in Prairie Schooner, which awarded them the Strousse Poetry Award, and will be forthcoming in Bennington Review and Ploughshares.

Fig. 1: Schematic of what I found and could not leave behind.
 
The                               The
Square                          students
in May.                          in May.
          People                            Anticipation
          on side                              in May.
          streets
          in May.
                     Banners      Hope                      Dread
                     in May.     in May.                    in May.
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Article Details
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Author:Xiang, He
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 1, 2020
Words:538
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