Summer Palace When glaciers retreated from the plains, most animals followed them into the sky. Only the saiga—antelopes tricked by cold-weather feints—stayed. Now, they circle in their last great migration. The ghost of Genghis Khan tells me these things calmly, the same way he says that melt water is fresh, not salt, and at least 1 in 200 men today descend from his own body. I know it’s true, science has proved it. I say to him, so, it’s possible you really are my ancestor. Look how I ride, and fast. I’m certain to learn to shoot from a gallop. I know this because memories from those alive in 1949 are as far back as my genealogy goes. That was when thin papers burned on their spines, flew like sparks into the sky. At gunpoint, on threat of family, they made my grandmother’s sister eat bowlfuls of hair and sleep with the dead in their open graves. To this day, my parents like to tell me it can happen again. Run first, think later. Be ready. At this, the Khan seems to regard my story with pity. Hair and dead bodies, he muses. In the summer country, we’d have cooked your wish into a diet of antelope flesh, or perhaps small arrowheads pressed into your back. Don’t imagine for a second I will tell you what to call yourself—you know how careless people are with names. In the act of remembering: bones all sound the same.
-- M. Cynthia Cheung is a physician whose poems can be found in The Baltimore Review, Pleiades, RHINO, swamp pink, SWWIM Everyday, Tupelo Quarterly and others. She serves as a judge for Baylor College of Medicine’s annual Michael E. DeBakey Medical Student Poetry Awards.