Metaplasia and other poems
– Poetry by Mary Sun –
Some human cells adapt to toxic stress by physically becoming other cells. Smoke enough, and tall columns become flat lung lines. Turn 16, and girl lining becomes home-in-waiting. The word for this is metaplasia. It is supposed to be temporary.
If the acid reflux lasts long enough,
our throats turn home to miracles.
Mucosa gazes into the hissing ocean,
forgets it ever wanted anything else.
Burns off its pink,
grows taller cells,
meets the bile as
intestine. It knows
rust is a better color for pain.
Pathology TA holds up dead esophagus
and I write a letter. Sorry the shapeshifting
did not save you.
There are children who want to
die. Children waiting in empty
lots and melting sandcastles,
enduring as monster-flowers
–monsters, to hurt what hurts
–flowers, to want to live. It is so
hard to remember if we are
persons or flowers or monsters.
I squint; the air shimmers with all
we will become.
When the dark tide recedes,
you are left with a sun that is eating the galaxy
and generations of children with stomachs for throats.
I am calling collect for the orphan army.
Taping the Milky Way spiral to a sea of searchlights,
flooding the sky with a healing that has never known straight lines.
Everything is division. Everything is hoping that they know when they don’t.
I have laid out bait for the ouroboros,
bottles of waves shredding themselves on the rocks,
dying again and again for a moon that will never stay.
There is a basket in the corner, for when it comes and you shatter in place.
It will take and take and you will give and give and I will collect you back together then.
After, let out the string behind you.
Leave me a map to your permanent battlefields. Take my umbrella
to Neverland and don’t give it back. The storms there cannot help leaking through the sky.
It is so hard to unclench my fists and let you home,
where the war began. Not knowing if family alive means a family alive.
All I saw were the laws they wrote without you. Baked onto your trembling bones.
On bad days, I cannot forgive the sepsis
for reaching your eyes. For turning your world into a lie of mirrors
and your nervous system into a child with too-small hands that cannot turn off the faucet.
I never know if I am feeding the soldier or the child. The water never stops being sacrificed.
Beloved, if I lose you here,
if the dust clogs your lungs and the gangrene creeps heavy,
remember this. Worms only feed on what was once most alive.
When they have you, slit their stomachs with your broken-edged heart and rejoin the sun.
the first time, i am wearing green cotton.
the second time, black denim. the third, white linen
when they try to name my rainforest mind.
the first time, i am picking at cheap plastic.
the second time, peeling linoleum. the third, manila folder
as they put letters to a blood wildness
like sticking magnets
to wet leaves. they are struggling. me too
rainforest mind is not broken, jagged
capitals or doctor scrawl. this clueless checklist.
i think that someone should tell them.
tell them that rainforests are histories:
armies of giants growing from a holy wine,
sopping birthplaces dried out too soon
rainforest mind is the self as wood cortex,
pacing thoughts as branching vines,
this world as so many tree-children
knit together by loneliness and a yearning of roots.
mine learned to drink blood water, survived on
the poison of a choiceless pain.
of course i grew sideways
rainforest mind has you watering dark gardens,
has you leaving the alarm shrieking for hours
just so something will really need you.
rainforest mind remembers the rape and
the Rainier summit in the same breath –
it is less where things fall now, more how deep.
how far they stretch the accordion of your branches
rainforest mind needs to grow over the sun sometimes,
needs you to find comfort in our gaps because how
can a forest exist without shade? you were made to grow blind,
to foster a darkness so gorgeous it learns starlight.
no one shames the first frost for its murders.
do not shame yourself for the corpses you never asked for.
all you can do is carry them in your cage of ribs:
smear peat and moss on their eyes
when their stares do not serve you.
write the novels worth of happy endings
your spine does not believe in. love the child.
i give you permission
a white coat will tell you that you are trying to
outrun loneliness, but how can the canopy leaves be lonely?
they are nestled so close, a drop of rain takes 10 minutes
to hit the ground. tell them that rainforests are surface area:
soldier-leaves packed so tight in their own, the
general’s conversation can carry for a beautiful, beautiful mile
rainforest mind means – splinter off
in the middle of a sentence, another vine is growing.
rainforest mind doesn’t plan commutes, doesn’t really
see time, doesn’t accept the 1st or 2nd or 3rd ending.
(breakup / don’t go home for Christmas).
rainforest mind won’t remember birthdays
or cook or allow you to pretend at parties,
but it is always sure that everything can grow;
can be better and fuller and more branched
than the ground understands what do with.
rainforest mind needs you to read irresponsibly,
to order delivery from 50 feet away,
to hang up on your mother and move to Seattle.
give your grief to its cedars, count their generations and realize
they have absorbed so much more than your own.
when you are done trail running, when you have finally
caught your breath, the forest will start to hyperventilate again.
let the thoughts sieve,
cross your boughs protectively over one another,
and watch as they touch you through a glass wall
rainforest mind sings an ode:
to the softness in our skulls. to the fear of growing whole,
because who are you without the reverberations?
ignore the straight lanes you think everyone lives in.
rip yourself open and sew your own sutures,
split so often they become familiar seams.
hold yourself together as another one leaves –
you know you are already growing a new vine
in case the last offerings were not enough.
and you are already leaving it, too.
20 world leaders sit around a table in Buenos Aires, and the world burns.
eight hours north, a rainforest filters their smoke through its lungs.
in its canopy are half the species on this earth,
its plants eating its animals and its animals eating its plants.
preying on yourself: the logic of the Amazon, and of you.
yet you both manage to housekeep this place. to airbrush their pain.
to bubble in the alchemy of turning loss into oxygen
Author Statement – Mary Sun
I am a first-year medical student living at the intersection of artistry and the hard sciences. Outside of classes, I am a performing slam poet, work as a chronic disease and sexual trauma researcher, and advocate for gender equity in healthcare. Before moving to New York, I worked in software engineering, was a vocalist in a punk EDM band, and volunteered as a crisis counselor. Existing across many worlds has led me to deeply value diversity of thought, feeling, and experience.
Growing up, I would never have predicted my life today. My immigrant family grew up on the poverty line, and I worked several jobs to help make ends meet. Books allowed me to escape our financial instability, and to live through several physical and emotional traumas. At the encouragement of a special teacher and after receiving my first writing award, I discovered and began performing spoken word poetry. After that, I never stopped. Literary expression is the lens through which I have learned anything and everything; it is my healing mainstay and the inspiration behind a career in medicine. These poems are an attempt to explore some of the darkness I left behind. And the light.
About the Author – Mary Sun
Mary Sun is a neurodivergent, first-generation Chinese American woman who grew up on the poverty line. Her work explores layered histories of abuse, fragmented identity, and human connection. Before becoming a medical student, Mary built enterprise technology software, worked on medical devices, and ran two companies. She has forthcoming work in Wide Eyes Press, Mexican Press, and The Menteur, is a Brooklyn Poets Yawp Winner, has received scholarships from The Poetry Project and Cave Canem, and has been awarded several Gold Keys from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She resides in NYC and was educated at Harvard, the Wharton School, and the University of Pennsylvania. She can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.
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