I light incense on the stovetop, trail cinders
through an empty house. I’ve decided to believe
in the power of ashes: Here I am,
buying fruit, mending torn shirts, brushing teeth
in cramped bathrooms, living
someplace new. Wish you were here.
I sprinkle sandalwood dust on the ribbon
from my first 5k, the token from my first solo trip –
milestones so small and unremarkable
only you could understand and be proud.
Remember world history class, how I translated
lectures to you each night, partly to practice,
partly to keep you with me. Every day,
there’s so much new I want to show you,
like the spongy tang of injera, pork belly
banh mi melting like butter on the tongue,
all these places I have traveled without you
so I can forget how without you I am.
Remember when I was ten and hateful, trying
too hard to be cool, how in a rare moment
you said all you wanted was for me to love
my life, my only life, this life you started.
Here, look how the clouds blush so fiercely;
the stark blue winter, so cold and bright.
Jenny Qi received her PhD in cancer biology from UCSF in 2017. This poem was first published in The Atlantic and appears in her first book, Focal Point.