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  • Writer's pictureSabrina Guo


for Grandma (1937-2020)

Grandma lived on the river shore

all her life. Photos of her smile etched

in my mind as she puffs her chest out

clenching nets of fish. She found out

she was pregnant the day Grandpa took

that photo—a few months later,

a miscarriage: high doses

of mercury, the doctor said.

The mercury was undetectable

in the bodies of the fish, but they knew

the sky dosed the river

with it. There were

chickens, also, few enough

to name. But soon,

the riverbeds dried—they had no choice

so Grandma and Grandpa began

eating the fish they had preserved. They collected

rain for drinking water, sheltered

like chickens inside, once

the sun burnt their skin.


Grandma told me this story

every time we ate the salmon we caught

at Amur River: You know, she starts as she cuts

the pink belly, you don’t know what’s in ‘em

till it hits you. I always hugged her

from the back, wrapped my hands around

her stomach, careful of the cesarean scar. It was

a few shades darker than salmon belly. Every night

beside me—for months—she’d thumb her lip

in prayer, say it’s all just children and love

and blood and bone. She’d repeat it with precision

as if language itself could extract the mercury

from her blood, her tissue, her bone, her brain, her

memory—bit by poisonous bit.

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