Contributor Notes

Mark Lee

Mark Lee


Balsa Wood

I found our airplanes today,

father-son skeletons hidden high on the shelf.

Some are in their boxes like unspoken words


Others are stacked like half-constructed sentences.

One plane—an Aircoupe—banks left,

skinless balsa wing lifting the ceiling.

I was eight the first time I found it.

Early one morning

in the center of the living room, you left

a box on the footstool.  White with an illustration

of a man in an airplane waving.

I waited for us to finish what I started that day.  Waited

for hands to lift more than imagination through the air,

Bernoulli's principle applied to the soul.

The skinless plane banks left into shadows.

Shadows like partial memories,  shapes

and movements blurry since we closed your eyes

nine years ago.

What a vomitous relief,

that day malignant fingers slipped you away from us

and from your person decayed.  There is more than that day

—that blood stank dab of glue—which separates

and brings us together.  Folded in its white box,

this papery skin could have lifted our living and dying

into deeper heights.  Watch as I cut it to size.

Feel it stretch around us.

Like Rain


In a small bus heavy with people,

I find myself lost in a tangle

of a language I almost but still don't understand.

So I listen with my eyes and the faces around me

tell stories—

a basket beside a green field of small red


a courtyard with a black bicycle from the 1950's, and miles

of road made of stone bricks,

the footsteps of generations.

I hear the breath of a hundred

coal burning winters,

see the gnarled fingers of labor's life.

Sometimes the young stand to let their elders

sit but the driver never comes to a complete stop

for anyone.

Pressing against my arm, a bundle of green vegetables so fresh

a caterpillar is still busy.

When I was a boy, I pulled half-eaten leaves and

watched as the caterpillars kept eating.

When I grew bored with the back and forth,

back and forth,

I would toss them onto an anthill, then watch the frenzy

overcome the ants

and soon the caterpillars.

Boys are like that somedays.

But standing in this bus I am not that boy

or the country I am from or even a foreigner.

I am just another person trying to get somewhere­...

                        the old man from his field,

the woman to the market,

the small girl holding her grandfather's pant leg

            —black hair pigtails, pink jacket—

smiling back at me.


The Japanese teacher is far

from your 101 years (and counting).

Her hair is grey

but straighter

than the last time I saw you.

I watch as her aging fingers unzip the pocket

of her purse, reach in, search around inside until emerging

with two small chocolate bars.

She smiles as she hands me one, a satisfied motion

in her gesture, as though she knew

I was now remembering you.  The way

your hands were so exact

              when tying a knot.

The way you used your middle

            and ring fingers

to hold then tuck the end through.  Your chickens

in their coops are a favorite memory, the smell

of their waiting, beaks probing holes in their caged fate.

I always tried to escape the shade of your umbrella.

            Only a short distance from the bus stop to

your home but long enough for the boys to laugh.

I guess when you're a boy, an umbrella is only

for the rain. 


Four four two.  What a number for a Chinese bus.

Seven thousand miles away and your baggage is still mine.

The first and only car you bought new—1965 Oldsmobile 4-4-2—

Big, heavy, and faster than your friend's Camaro.

When I said I wanted to restore it, I meant that I wanted us to restore it...

            preferably while you were still alive.  After all,

I'm not the one who left it sitting in the Arizona sun and monsoon rains to die

a slow death of cancerous rust and neglect. 

I tried my best to finish your backyard.

Your shovel was too slow so I used a dump trunk.  Many, many, dump trucks.

But of course, as you always warned, the loosely laid dirt was no match for water

and gravity and a half-assed job.  The monsoons turned dirt to mud and the mud slid

down the bank of your yard.  So I proudly placed a drain pipe,

stout with concrete!  I looked outside during a fantastic storm and the yard was underwater—

                                    the whole damn thing looked ready to slide into the wash!

I sloshed my way to the drain, reached in and pulled up handfuls of sticks

and leaves.  The drainpipe groaned at me!  It actually made noise...

like the low howl of a strong suction,  like the year I felt myself sucked down

            drowned my way through      dark pipe         lost churning   lost

   way back      lost memories  knowing only nothing

            about you        then I       then spewed out     coughing   somewhere     someone else


Time Lapse

One day trees will push the wind

Our eyes will teach the light

and the light will see what it shows

One day the grasses will strangle

the mower  Paints will peel

from their canvas to become life

One day oil in the fields will curdle

Black sopped dinosaurs will trample cars

The air will breathe once more

One day the grass we lay upon will remember

the weight of us, the curve

of our wills against all of Earth

Our distance will melt into Spring

into streams that gurgle and pop

our story into memory