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  1. Ting Gou
  1. Correspondence to Ting Gou, University of Michigan Medical School Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1021 Island Drive Ct. #106, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105,

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Who could blame us, friend, almost-sister,

when we woke up on separate islands

where our unique monsters bred,

unrecognizable to each other?

This was not supposed to be part of the story,

crashing and burning yes, but being in our own darkness,

no. I thought growing up was about restraint,

how the hero Odysseus would rather strap himself to his boat

than be ruined by those beautiful women. 

In my apartment now, I look over the winter trees

at what I couldn't see then, millions of islands like ours,

that for all our childhood sufferings we were unspecial,

the demons in my jungles, the froth-mouthed chimeras

in yours that made you slice your skin

in neat, parallel lines, you promising you'll stop and

you almost did. I should think that the destruction

wasn't your fault, that a child learns about it

while eating raspberries—

place a soft body against your tongue, bear down

until the sweetness dries up and the seeds turn to dust.

Instead I think we lost our childhoods alone.

What I don't say:

Some days now I stare out over a blank ocean

and see nothing. A dullness clouds me

and pulls. Here the story gets turned around,

you with healed scars and me on a flat shore, numb.

There is no good ending I can write for old stories,

no real beauty told in pain and if the pain looks beautiful

it's because they're faking it. 

Odysseus ties himself up then pulls against the restraints,

almost breaking himself, not because he wants the women,

but because he wants something

to strive for. All his friends are dead.

Let's talk about how you saved yourself.

Odysseus loving the Sirens

for the sake of loving something. 

The heroes we dream up

with rope marks on their wrists,

eating breakfast now or picking up the mail,

the ones we imagine made it home.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.