February 2017: Jacqueline He
Jacqueline He is a high school junior from the Harker School in San Jose, California. She was recently named a 2017 YoungArts Finalist in Writing, a 2017 Virginia B. Ball Writing Contest Finalist, and a 2016-2017 American High School Poets Just Poetry!!! National Winner. Her poetry was recognized by Princeton University and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, and was featured in Teen Ink (Editor's Choice Award), the Eunoia Review, Brouhaha Magazine, Effervescent Magazine, and Moledro Magazine. She serves as a poetry editor for Glass Kite Anthology, and she has participated in the GKA Writing Studio and the Quartz Online Young Writers' Workshop in the past summer. In her free time, Jacqueline likes to solve algorithm competition problems and binge-watch Dance Moms.
My maiden aunt drowns oysters stick-lipped
and scalloped in bathtubs flooded
with oxygen. It is Sunday.
Something sunless spills in her fingers:
versions of flesh, as stunned as
film girls unclothed. Pearls clicking in the blue indent
between clavicles, a trapping close to surrender
under stratums of calcified years.
In old pictures my aunt is reshaped,
thighs branched open to veins
on a glacial square of light. Bowline eyes
ringed from coats of lemon vodka.
In her hand, a virgin oyster.
The camera pins her etherized
trachea down under the ceiling fan,
Even here she still pulsates,
pinwheel breath smeared through
a thick overlay. She is titled
Girlhood at Sea, author unknown.
Gelatin silver print, 1951.
Later, my aunt swings. A bivalve shatters, tissue
crushed in glass smear. Somewhere, a girl decants
ethanol—from chunked ice, or the likeness of it—
into windowpane shells.
Mollusks alchemize in chambered palms,
the sweat more warmth
than touch. I sift for them in collapsed households,
find vacancies instead.
My aunt who is now as gray as her maiden past
on gloss-trap paper, prays in sore tongues:
To mend the splinter of crow's feet, to re-ignite
fire red lipstick extinguished flat. To forget
the lingering pagans of a rotting tooth.
She orchestrates the death
of oysters, minutes teased out in strings
of quiet. Foam crowning gritty lips.
Only a dissonance caught between shells—
of girlhood smutted out with ersatz
sugar. Better than salt bleeding dry
in the crease between wrists,
or a frame cracked squarely
into halves and quarters and eighths.
A Conversation with Jacqueline He
Richa: How do you try to infuse poetry and creative writing into your daily life?
Jacqueline: Creative writing affects my daily life in the way that I try to think about things in different perspectives. I guess this is really what creative writing is truly about -- exploring the world through a slant that invites others to think critically as well. And writing also brings a certain freedom, since you're not constrained to the same view that everyone else has, but rather a unique lens that adds dimension to your individual outlook.
Richa: Have you ever had an experience that informed your work more than anything else?
Jacqueline: Reading Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye was the best decision I've ever made. The book is actually assigned reading for my English class, except I finished it over the summer because the writing -- particularly the imagery -- is just so strong and enthralling. The opening line really stood out to me: "Nuns go by as quiet as lust, and drunken men and sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel." The narration here is so lyrical that it verges on poetic, and this line basically summarizes the style I want: something that blurs the distinction between poetry and prose.
Richa: What has been your greatest moment as a young poet and writer?
Jacqueline: Attending the 2017 National YoungArts week! Being around so many talented people at once is such a wonderfully overwhelming experience, and I was exposed to a variety of different artists (not just writers!) whose passion towards their crafts is truly inspiring. My discipline was in short story, but I did learn a lot in regards to poetry and its inner mechanisms, and listening to all the poetry finalists read their pieces really changed my perspective towards this genre. There's a versatility towards the poetic form that I haven't previously anticipated, as well as a greater degree of precision to each phrase, which I find incredibly interesting.