The Quotable


I search for you in every man I meet.
I don’t know what to look for, but Mama said
boys take after their mothers. Would you
have looked slightly French like our mother,
with a tall graceful nose and waxing-moon eyes?
I might have teased you for being prettier than me.

Mama told me about you when I was eight,
how she lost you slipping on dark ice
and our father was too far to catch her,
how you swam out of her like a little fish
in rivers of blood crossing new snow,
how after that she clung to me harder
like a half-inflated life jacket.
I understood then why Mama and I
stared so hard at empty spaces, why
four felt so much happier than three.
Our mother said she liked girls better,
but I wondered if she saw you too
when she smiled at little boys.

She might have called you John,
because people would mispronounce Jean
when they didn’t see a kindly Frenchman.
She tried to call me Jane, after a governess,
but someone told her it wasn’t cute enough.
We might have laughed at our failed literary names.
She planned our names, you know, our real names.
You would have a conscience as clear as ice;
I would have faith as pure as jade. She wrote
under your name when you didn’t return.
It’s your name I’ve got scrawled across my back.

I always imagined you would be the brave one
who would tease me about fearing the dark,
even as you peered under my bed at night
while I held the flashlight, trembling.
I used to wish you could hide with me
in the attic when our father shouted,
or maybe because you had more courage
you would have embraced me, then stepped out.
And maybe you would like poetry too
or write stories because you’re more patient.

I like to think you would have understood me
when I was so lost without our mother.
We could have been lost together.

It’s strange how I can miss you so much
when I’ve never known you. I think
I’ll always search for you
in melting ice.



Jenny Qi is a PhD student in biomedical sciences in San Francisco, which is a fancy way of saying she’s putting off adulthood by pretending to cure cancer.  She has previously published poems in the vanderbilt review and Tabula Rasa.  In her spare time, she continues to write existential poems and draws science cartoons for the Synapse. Check out what she’s up to at

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