Ode to Exile

Sally Wen Mao

The bag over my head kept me from seeing          the sky’s pink architecture. The beautyof the celestial dome does not transcend sight.          After my arrest, I left my country, the onewhose rivers I bathed in as a child, the one that          gave me my primary education, my primaldreams. And in the new country, I was free          to watch the sky. Except this skywas different, this sky didn’t glow like a pink          orb, this sky underwhelmed me.I didn’t love this sky. I didn’t love this country,          though everyone told me to be grateful.So I shut up. I grew up. This tale is not about          gratitude. This tale is not about assimilation.This tale is about omissions, exits, how I escaped          the pitiable doubleness of that narrative,moved to another country, then another, and in each          I saw a sky that didn’t match the one I usedto have. Physics says that light pollution keeps          the cells in our eyes from truly witnessingthe heavens. In my journey, I forgot about clarity          or smog. I forgot about comparisons,or philosophies, or revolutions, or regimes.          Instead, I watched the kites scar the trees,the ducks swim across the depthless lake.          Every city reminded me of another city.Oh, I was lonely. I spoke nine dead languages.          I spoke then I shouted until they answered.The cities, the suburbs, the plains. I said to any living          thing: I’ve arrived. I’m here. Are you listening?

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Sally Wen Mao is the author of Oculus and Mad Honey Symposium. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Kundiman and the New York Public Library Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

The Massachusetts Review

Volume 59 Issue 4 2018

Amherst, Massachusetts

University of Massachusetts

Executive Editor
Jim Hicks

Poetry and Translation Editor
Ellen Doré Watson

Founded in 1959 by a group of professors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke, and Smith, The Massachusetts Review is one of the nation’s leading literary magazines, distinctive in joining the highest level of artistic concern with pressing public issues. As The New York Times observed, “It is amazing that so much significant writing on race and culture appears in one magazine.” MR was named one of the top ten literary journals in 2008 by the Boston Globe.

A 200-page quarterly of fiction, poetry, essays, and the visual arts by both emerging talents and established authors, including Pulitzer and Nobel prizewinners, special issues have covered women’s rights, civil rights, and Caribbean, Canadian, and Latin American literatures.

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