The Gift

Weak light pulsed
From paper folds
Painted tones on
Olive skin.

Take it.

I held it
As if it were a trapped jellyfish—
Afraid of the sting.

It won’t bite.
At most,
It’ll teach you

You told me to keep it.
The fire died out halfway home.

The next morning, it gleamed on the sill
Like a living thing.

Home lit red that day.

It painted my walls
A masterpiece
And shone strongly through the night.

The auburn put fall leaves
To shame.

The next morning I realized
The vermillion patterns on the paper folds
Were calligraphy.

You had painted the characters yourself.
Demons, they read.
Fear darkness jealously agony—

I averted my eyes.
Why would you write such things,
When the only things I’d received from you before
Were penciled love letters?
A rowboat on the lake
In the serenity of midsummer?

You were
Someone who said
My eyes were shaped like cherry blossoms,
Nothing more.
Next time you came,
I noticed the ink stains on your hands
And the way your left sleeve was
pulled higher than your right.

You frowned upon my curtains.

I didn’t give it to you
To hide.

In response, I read aloud the calligraphy
Confusion distorting my voice.
Was it a curse?
Why would you give me such a gift?

To my surprise, you smiled:

Like ripples in the pond
Appeared between your eyes.

The worsts parts of me, you said.
I wanted to see if you would accept me.

Shakingly I withdrew the blinds;
The lantern ignited to life.

Our silhouettes curved
Around the globe
So the rainbow trout could see
My lips stretched out in smile, eyes flutter
With relish tears.

You handed me a lantern blessed,
And with it,
I lit up the world.

Kerri Huang