Theory of Worth
I don’t think of the faces in the soil,
or the oranges in my pockets, ripe
and bright as the storm.
Or how eventually, when your glasses began
to look like paintings (eye-colored) morphing
on your face, we ducked into an ice cream shop
and realized that the thunder sounded like ka-boom
and the fireworks like ka-pow, basically the same thing,
and I wondered why I hadn’t looked up in awe
all those other nights.
I don’t think of how alone I knew myself to be,
passing through East Village like a foghorn, loud
and intangible, calling attention to everything
but my being. That summer, I had this theory
that a person’s worth was inversely proportional
to the length of silence they endured before
someone went looking for them. When you called, I thought
finally. When you called, I thought this
must be my worth, the inverse of three months,
but at least the wait was over, just in time
for the 4th of July.
Two blocks from your apartment,
so deep in the crowd we could’ve been
any pair of strangers, we stared up
at the colors, like balloons in the middle
of bursting. Skin electrified by all the breath
it could not keep. I don’t think of how
you kept wishing yourself to California because
all your real friends were there, or how, when we walked
onto the highway at last, we found everyone
leaving because the night was over.
No, I think of us
front of the crowd, ascending the highway:
something like a bridge to the beginning
of my life. And there I saw you, and me,
still 6th graders who didn’t know how
to look at each other—and when I asked
if we would be friends in a decade, you said Yes,
because we’re special, even though
I knew we weren’t. Even though
we could’ve been anyone else.
Margaret Zhang lives in Philadelphia. A Best New Poets and Pushcart Prize nominee, they have attended the Tin House Poetry Workshop and been recognized by the Poetry Society of the UK. They are currently pursuing a BA in English at the University of Pennsylvania. Read their work in Waxwing, The Louisville Review, Salt Hill Journal, The Minnesota Review, and other journals. You can find them at margaretzhang.com.