Poetry & Prose

by jessica bao

International Academy

Sestina: a life

It is important to note that Death’s job
is not to break apart the band
of comradeship formed in life.
As you lay in bed
cannulas keeping you alive alongside your family’s cry,
the cool shadow of Death’s cloak is welcoming.

The morning walk feels welcoming,
a pace that no longer resembles a job.
Expected you and saw Death instead, they cry
out, but you cannot hear them over the big band,
filling out crosswords alone on the queen bed.
The girls playing outside your window are full of life.

You can see it, the fading of life.
The arms of your husband are still welcoming,
but so is the end of the day, a sexless bed.
Tick tock, a lifetime at this job.
Your daughter loves that foreign band,
what is it about those boys that makes her cry?

It is okay to crumple up your pride and cry
because sometimes the people you meet in life
are the wrong ones. That punk rock band,
the haze of the eighties, and that welcoming
reception lady when you got a nose job,
made it easier to restlessly fall into bed.

The alarm rings: it is not that hard to get out of bed.
It is to slam into frozen lockers. And not cry.
Hosting at that diner on Fifth, two fifty an hour job
is a car to drive away from your town, your school, your life.
That boy’s smile is wicked and welcoming,
too bad he chose to stay with his band.

The simplicity, the brightness of rubber bands
entertain you for hours. In that baby pink bed
all you care about is how welcoming
your mother’s hugs are when you cry.
Death’s name is still unknown, as is the rest of your life.
It does not concern you yet, his job.

A band of loved ones fills the hall, your father holds his wife’s hands as she cries.
Your mother thrashes in bed, covered in blood yet so clearly a painting of life.
Death tries to be welcoming as he brings you around once more, did he do well at his job?


I watched the man bleed away, drained like an insect held under the white lamp of an entomologist. So vivid you can almost hear the hiss. I touched his back while he laid there, motionless. A misshapen dead thing. He stirred, and I wonder if he was remembering his wife. I’ve watched her kill him. Every night - every Tuesday night when she stays late at our mother’s house for tea and bridge - I nurse him back to life.

It was not enough. I got to watch the man die, until eventually he stopped breathing. “They said he just collapsed in his office,” my darling sister sobbed, “What will I do now?”

“How unfortunate,” I replied, and it was true. It was a great misfortune. Terrible. But I do not have space in the corners of my mind to mourn. There is no door that I can open, and dusty, useless things won’t come spilling out. He is free, my mind chanted, and so am I. Free to leave the comfort of this house. Free from the coffin bed of my head. Free to pursue some less troublesome love.

Yet. When I hold up my mirror to throw some rouge upon my cheek. When I right the hoops of my best taffeta dress and black silk scarf. When I raise my leg to step over the threshold of my flower-papered prison, I shrink.

I wrapped the scarf around my fist and punched hard, but not as hard as I could have. I am well aware of that.

And so here I am. Trapped, with a mournful sister, an aging mother, and a roomful of angry scornful whispers.

It is here that I found the freedom I seek.

Jessica Bao.jpeg

jessica bao

is an ambivert high school senior who enjoys reading, jogging, and watching movies that will make her cry. She grew up in Shanghai, China but has lived in Rochester, MI for the past 7 years. She plans on attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, likely as an English and/or Art History major. Although recently a Kindle converter, she still loves exploring book stores and appreciates the gravitas of a good paper edition.