Plain China

Missouri Shells

by Clara Lee · University of Minnesota · Honorable Mention in Poetry
You Are Nowhere, Lydia Smith · Rice University

On October blacktop poured over
limestone, the hard ghost of an inland sea, farmland,
then floodplains now emptied by whistle,


we tumble, small and tough under wind.
Over me, Jacob Dearborn is all stonewashed jeans
and potato hands, but I, too, am a scuffling-hard kid


caught knees on asphalt, shoving back punishment
for pinching the still-delicate penis of his best friend,
who yesterday called me a Chinese shrimp with glasses.


Now I think Jacob is trying to kill me
with his damp, white hands and still—I don’t know—
I think I’ll marry him for his pilgrim’s name,


and his white eyelashes long like horses’
and his mean, wet lisp. I cannot wrest his fists from my face.
In a book, I will learn that Dearborns torched orchards and corn


fields to oceans of flame. And smashed on my teeth
his thumb: the salt of landlocked sea-grit, raw dough,
and quick, I hear the interstate: cold water rushing,


another whistle is blowing, and quick, I bite to the quick
of his thumb. Now he is crashing up into the cookie-sheet slide
under which we were hiding, he is crying,


I am running. He is calling me a shrimp—as if I ever belonged
to this dull-hearted ocean, dry-walled, lawned-over, washed-over
calm. I belong to the islands,


plantations, sugar cane trains in Japan,
to the seamstress, to the hatmaker of Kowloon, Hong Kong.
I don’t know. I am panting and wanting for home.

About the Author

Clara Lee · University of Minnesota

Clara Lee is a student of the Dakota language at the University of Minnesota. An upbringing in suburban Missouri and the Hubei province of mainland China by Cantonese immigrants informs her work in language and identity. Her work was first honored by the Wednesday Club of St. Louis, earning her, for a short time, the nickname “Tennessee Williams.” “Missouri Shells” was first published in Ivory Tower.  

About the Artist

Lydia Smith · Rice University

Lydia Smith is a junior at Rice studying visual art and anthropology. A Chicago native, she also directs the Matchbox Gallery, the student-run exhibition space on the Rice campus. When not in her studio, you can find Lydia visiting the local cemetery or navigating a map. You Are Nowhere was first published in R2: Rice Review. You can view more of her work here.