You Can’t Un-Swim a Fish

"Reverse Takoyaki (How To Uncook An Octopus)" and "Quintet For Harvard Square," two poems by Haolun Xu

melancholy orange fish

You Can’t Un-Swim a Fish

Reverse Takoyaki (How To Uncook An Octopus)


Reverse salmon. How to un-swim a fish. 
Dewater it. The future unfolding a dead
octopus splashed back to life.


The journey of my diary
is always one-sided. I never could 
read that telling of the story,

of the present. I never could truly
go back to that day the three of us found a squid, 
and you called it a turtle. One-third of us
later calling it happiness.


All life from the ocean, is a sure thing. 
Even when time divides us, (please) 
laugh triumphantly and call them waves.

Sometimes, even at the grocery store in Newark,
a gale blows over, stronger than that tornado I saw in Ohio, 
carrying the memories of strangers
at sea. For this, I shall cry. Only this. 


I am waking from that dream
that another swimming history gave me.
Father, where am I? Says the old crab 
to his one and only sea.


They will find him so far,
in another land. They will ask his name, 
and he will only whisper
from the sand of his dry mouth 
all the names of his fallen,
and ones that touched him gently.

Quintet For Harvard Square


I am a grand thief tonight at Harvard Square. 
My hair will grow twice as fast,
like tendrils true at sea. My shadow mixes with twelve 
columns, stretched thirteen feet long each

way. To the new silhouettes made by streetlamp,
What does it mean to be the youngest student 
at the oldest school? Flicker, then sway.


Beautiful. The animals trade spots with the grass. 
Meanwhile, a hare crosses the long library,
unnoticed, with his hind legs faster than his front.


Sever Hall, with the dimly cast entrance, 
a huge square with only one hole,
like a trick, like a wall with a tunnel

drawn on it. Interesting to pick here to piss, 
but sometimes — we see so clearly
what is to be seen, only at dusk. 


Under the earth, the men's shoulders 
touch so briefly, like stars kissing,
and the lights color over two paintings of boats.

Someone remarks how odd it is, that so much was drunk
in thirst. How odd it is that this
is the happiness we've always had.

Later he reaches his hand up, without stretching 
to touch the old and scratchy ceiling
where one light had landed by accident. 

At the pharmacy, I remember my shoplifting 
days. But it is past that now. When I see
how much security is watching the check-out, 
relief flushes through me.

I'll pay slowly, watching each coin 
drop into the hand of another.

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