A Hymn to Shanghai

By Nancy Huang
After Lin Yutang

  斜着坐的女人 seated woman, Ye Ling

斜着坐的女人 seated woman, Ye Ling

see, this is how you sing to the Great Terrible City:
bribe it with good fortune. feed it a logic
riddle. these are good things to give to certain
locations. do you believe in ghosts? no. i believe in
being haunted. i wish you could be done with a place
and have it not haunt you. i am wishing for
too much. Shanghai, which is 上海, which is
“upon-the-sea,” which is fairytale. i used to be afraid of
how unknowable the sea was, its vast reach.
its love for flesh. its hunger for deep.
they always say, in fairytales, you get three shots. i am
American. strike one. i am China-native. strike two.
there, the ocean is flooding between the city streets.
traffic gridlocked all over the city. my ancestors
whispering to me about all the quality fengshui
in Shanghai, that no matter where you stand
there’s an ocean in front of you, can you believe that?
how a city can spill into a river, into the sea.
if everyone here is a liar, how can i believe you when
you tell me beggars babes and billionaires. how can
you feel a place outside of your body. isn’t your
body the end-all-be-all. aren’t the faces in the river your
face, too. aren’t you still in the river. didn’t you fall
in once. you never made it out. other people
waded to shore. you stayed. they left, and the city
changed. you stayed. no one ever thanked you.
for staying there. for laying down. for keeping
the river warm.


Nancy Huang is a winner of the 2016 Write Blood Poetry Chapbook contest, an Andrew Julius Gutow Academy of American Poets Prize, a James F. Parker Award in Poetry, and a winner of the Michigan Young Playwrights Festival.

Ye Ling is from Fujian, but currently lives and works in Shanghai. She likes to explore unique subconscious realities through a variety of different media, including ink, charcoal, pastels, watercolors, as well as oil paints.