Story of My Sky

Xiaoly Li
| poetry


To the people, food is the sky
— Ban Gu, Eastern Han Dynasty, The Book of Han


Our sky was limited when I was young, quota stamps for grain,
+++for cooking oil, for meat, eggs, cloth, for a bicycle. I couldn’t
+++wait for my birthday to get a ten-cent ice cream bar,
+++instead of a five-cent popsicle.

I remember the first-time Father was mad at me because I dropped
+++a few grains of rice into the crack of the table and refused to eat
+++them. He pushed me against the table. One tooth broken.

Our appetites were insatiable but compensated with everything
+++fresh from farms, ripe, untainted—tomatoes, Napa cabbages,
+++daikons…Nothing was or has been tastier than the memories
+++of free-range chicken—Father got the head; Mother, wings;
+++me, the feet, chewy, long-lasting.

We hosted a few parties with food. Our neighbor said, It’s not about
food but friendship. Each time we invited her, she took heartburn
+++medicine just before eating our homemade dumplings. I’ll
make a monument for the one who invented dumplings, she said.

My Popo ate a bowl of chicken soup right before leaving
+++for heaven, so she would not be a Starving Ghost,
+++her children & grandchildren would not be hungry in life.

The sky has expanded to a bounty of offerings. Today, my desire
+++is limited by my body’s need.I must measure every meal—
+++cupping rice, veggie, & fruit, finger-sizing protein. My eyes
+++often aim for more, just my eyes.

Sometimes I still wake up when it’s my turn to take dream meals,
+++how my heart still can’t break free from the sky.

Xiaoly Li is the author of the poetry collection Every Single Bird Rising (FutureCycle Press, 2023). She received an Artist Fellowship Grant in Poetry (2022) from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She has been nominated for Best New Poets, twice for a Pushcart Prize, and three times for Best of the Net.

Red Sky