This Land Has by Angelo Mao

a grammar like sand:
particulates eroding
like skin from a hand.

See how the hills keep
getting looser, lower.

The language spoken
here is analytic
and isolates word

from word, aftereffects
of loss. It gets borne aloft

easily, is called loess.
Is letting go. The eros-
ion is land

not desisting from shifting
somewhat sideways,
as unresisting

as Eros under the covers,
not lifting its fingers

as soil persists in drifting
into air. It’s used to it,
the Yellow River’s familiar

sheet pulled over and over
overhead. A million
cubic meters spill over

each hour. A million
dead as the river mulls over
the placement of its mouth.

I knew the language
belonging to this land,
to people who abide here.

But the words head elsewhere
from my mouth and

tell me as they leave:
Whatever said to belong
is what can be lost.

Whatever gets said
belongs to what is lost.

What can be lost
is whatever can be
or said to be. Loss is

whatever fits this
grammar, is rarely mis-
pronounced as loess.

Can you imagine trees here
and that I once spoke

like a native?
Now soil collapses in comma-
shaped canyons, cradled

by the arc of a river
that changes its mouth so
often, but whatever

I can say or save from
its excesses, emending
old routes like time

an old tongue, it ends
.                          in the sea.


Angelo Mao is a research scientist. He earned his Ph.D. in bioengineering from Harvard University. His first book of poetry, Abattoir (2021), won the Burnside Review Press Book Award. He was born in California and lives in Massachusetts.