Sept/Oct 2019 • Vol. XLI No. 5 Nonfiction |

On Sparrows

God keep his oath to sparrows,
Who of little love
Know how to starve!
  — Emily Dickinson My father was born on New Year’s Day in 1960. When he was an infant, my grandmother fed him grass in the parched, high mountains of Hubei. Nothing nourished my father in the womb; nothing nourished him as he left. My infant father didn’t have enough milk: five months of mother’s milk, and then my great-grandmother made him an artificial milk from rice. She ground rice until it was a fine powder and mixed it with water, and that’s what fed my father. During the famine, the family lived on the rural mountainside and gathered what they could: wild herbs, roots, grass, shoots, tree bark. They boiled the bark and ate. The taste was their survival. • • When I think of hunger, I think of the phrase that describes hardship: chi ku, to eat bitterness. The irony is that in this conversation my mother describes a situation where there is nothing to swallow. It’s the winter of

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Sally Wen Mao is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014), the winner of the 2012 Kinereth Gensler Award and a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Pick of Fall 2014. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2013 and is forthcoming or published in Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Guernica, and Gulf Coast, among others. A Kundiman fellow, she holds a B.A. from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.F.A. from Cornell University, where she was a lecturer in creative writing and composition for three years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and teaches in the Asian American Studies department at Hunter College.

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Ode to Emptiness

By Sally Wen Mao

God keep his oath to sparrows,
Who of little love
Know how to starve!
  — Emily Dickinson My father was born on New Year’s Day in 1960. When he was an infant, my […]

Ode to Egress

By Sally Wen Mao

God keep his oath to sparrows,
Who of little love
Know how to starve!
  — Emily Dickinson My father was born on New Year’s Day in 1960. When he was an infant, my […]

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