Sestina for Devils and Sandpaper Braille by Margaret Zhang

Between, #174 by Kris @ EcclesiastesOneTen

Sestina for Devils and Sandpaper Braille

We grew up in a city that brimmed with paper
and devil’s ivy that mottled the gossamer fence. Storms watered
the heavy soil dry, shook the plaza bell until its rings
sputtered out like pleas. On sodden summer evenings, we would light
shreds of bramble inside mason jars and tiptoe to the abandoned train
station, pupils glittering so orange they could sear through bible pages, break

our glass jars of nettle and fire. You did not know then that the breaks
of silence between our bumblebee mumbles were papered
with a leaden static that clung to our ankles like inter-city freight trains,
with too many crushed wheels, too much turbid water
in the engine. Maybe you thought the hush encompassed us in light,
because one sunup, as I woke beside the tracks to the plaza rings,

you returned with black halos curled around your ring
finger. I knew what those rings meant. The slate sky turned the color of breaking,
and I wondered how much longer we would hold until starlight
no longer hit our faces simultaneously. The stack of paper
we had infused with our elastic breaths began to taste like watery
nothing. Three months ago, the day before the train

whisked you away, you led me to a park, where life had first trained
you to be subtle. A mane of leaves spiraled in the rings
of wind above. We dipped our toes in the backwater,
fingering the Braille-ridged napkins as if trying to break
the code. When we were younger, we only spoke through paper
napkin scrawl, but that week, the napkins were silent. Overhead, sunlight

shimmied off the leaves like oil: flaxen and brilliant, but thicker than light’s
familiar texture. It was testing us, asking if all these honey years had trained
our ardors numb to the denser static in the air, the scratchy sandpaper
sun, the dark mistakes we wore on our fingers.
I do not remember how long we dangled our toes in the creek, but by next daybreak,
you had disintegrated into distance, along with your scent of rosewater

and gin. I wish I’d slipped napkin Braille into your palms that day, kissed them with water.
You might’ve spent the train ride fingering the ridges for candlelight
and returned to this city ten, twenty years later when you realized there was no code to break.
By then, I would’ve forgotten what I needed to say, forgotten the bullet train
that stole you away to stupor. For now, I am far from forgetting. Sometimes the hollow plaza rings
still fling me into silence. Sometimes I wake and find myself drowning in paper.

Until you left, I did not know to break my fall, even though these years had trained
me to maneuver imagined water into caress. I was not prepared for one sticky twilight
when a boy would adorn your knuckles with rings: black halos that blistered our paper.

Margaret Zhang

Margaret Zhang is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of Glass Kite Anthology. She’s been writing ever since her 2nd grade teacher praised her for describing the nonexistent snow in California as “drifting.” She is a Foyle Young Poet and has attended writing workshops at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, California State Summer School for the Arts, and Interlochen Arts Camp. Her work appears in Canvas Literary Journal, Young Adult Review Network, Parallel Ink, and several other magazines.