There is never an easy way to break

confidence, so Jade tells me


      in the softest way she knows how

      that she knows


why I am always searching for cures.

She admits that she’s been there before too,


      searching for a second skin

      that doesn’t feel so foreign to her.


She tells me about the

river, and how all of the cattails


      kept following her, kept whispering

      incessantly about the mosquitoes,


about the way they said that

her eyes looked like the moon,


      juxtaposed so beautifully against

      her freckles, sun spots so lovely that


they looked like mosquito kisses.

I tell her that she needs to


      forget the cattails, and

      forget their cajoling in her ear,


because that’s exactly how

they found the bodies last year,


      two girls washed up on the riverbank,

      tangled in the weed stalks and


peppered with mosquito bites

all over their skin, red


      stark over their tan, like

      the inverse of apple bruises.


I tell her to be careful, to

learn to discern the difference


      between the voices of the wind,

      and to buy a citronella plant,


because when it comes to mosquitos,

there are no such things as kisses.


      She knows this,

      of course.


She looks at me, looks at

how the edges of my eyes


      also curl into crescent moons,

      and tells me that she’s worried


I’ll forget, because she

read the news reports and


      those drowned girls also

      believed in a separate sort of grace,


told themselves they’d never

fall victim to meaningless words;


      but there hadn’t been any words

      that evening when they heard


the cattails, and heard the buzzing,

and told themselves that they’d be strong.


      The river had a strange way of

      telling them that no matter how


much they looked like the moon,

were blessed by the sun that had planted


      kisses on their cheeks, they would

      never be the girls that would be able


to love / to be loved —

and they felt it in their bones


      the night they last saw the stars.

      If anything, Jade tells me,


it’s not that we should fear the cattails,

or the mosquitoes, or even their lies.


      If anything, we should caution ourselves

      against the danger of lingering thought,


and all those that planted these voices,

the cattails, and the mosquitoes,


      to begin with.

Stephanie Tom is a Chinese-American high school student living in New York. She writes and serves as an editor for both her school newspaper and literary magazine. Her writing has previously won Gold and Silver keys from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and her poetry has either appeared or is forthcoming in Rising Phoenix Review, Germ Magazine, and the Blueshift Journal, among other places. You can find her spilling her thoughts online at