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Wetland Theory

Warm seagrass tangles around the doorways at the feet

of black mangroves. I am nothing if not my first waters.

In my mother’s memory of her village, she recalls

the turning river of ottelias stumbling on loose sunlight,

loose soil. Tonight, she sends a voicemail across seabeds and

bottomfeeders to announce her divorce. All migrants know

the sea-dark mud pummeled into their new napes, where

the body rejoined with the lilies snarling between their skulls.

I know all mire is blunt. Except, she remembers her native stream,

how she bore the human

-hardened rope for the first half of a life. When I land

in Fujian, she is boating the River of Grass in America. I sleep

with the lanternflies wounding the soft blankets of

trees that house them. I shake the men’s hands,

men who caught swamp eels dressed in their gowns of

muck. All living comes from the dead. The thick necks

of fishmongers immune to the guillotine they cradle. Blackened

teeth and clay-tugged gums of my mother’s brothers, the ones

who stayed. I inherit silt and labor. I am so clueless

with why the insects sway on, their migratory

flights robbed of joy. This is not my land. This is

not my first love, not even my last. On her airboat

in the Everglades, my mother reminds me that all men

are the same. Hungry and unwilling, mouths of sludge.

Among the knotweeds, I realize the depth of my belonging.

What light cleaves the delta into separate countries of being,

where the floodplain is as sweet as glass. I

say I feel sorry for her. Her black hair becomes a waterway.


A Chinese-American boy stands in front of a bookshelf with a ring, bracelet, and tote bag. His hair is orange and he is staring.

Daniel Liu is an American writer. His works appear in The Adroit Journal and Diode. He has been recognized by The Poetry Society, YoungArts, and the Pulitzer Center.