"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison



Some human cells adapt to toxic stress by physically becoming other cells. Smoke enough, and tall columns become flat lung lines. Turn 16, and girl lining becomes home-in-waiting. The word for this is metaplasia. It is supposed to be temporary.

If the acid reflux lasts long enough,
our throats turn home to miracles.

Mucosa gazes into the hissing ocean,
forgets it ever wanted anything else.
Burns off its pink,
grows taller cells,
meets the bile as
intestine. It knows

rust is a better color for pain.

Pathology TA holds up dead esophagus
and I write a letter. Sorry the shapeshifting
did not save you.

There are children who want to
die. Children waiting in empty
lots and melting sandcastles,
enduring as monster-flowers
–monsters, to hurt what hurts
–flowers, to want to live. It is so

hard to remember if we are
persons or flowers or monsters.
I squint; the air shimmers with all
we will become.

When the dark tide recedes,
you are left with a sun that is eating the galaxy
and generations of children with stomachs for throats.

Mary Sun is a neurodivergent, first-generation Chinese American woman who grew up on the poverty line. Her work explores layered histories of abuse, fragmented identity, and human connection. She is a winner of the Scholarship America Dream Award, Box Engineering Diversity Scholarship, and Google BOLD. Mary also works to improve access to psychiatric services as a founding member of Times Up Healthcare and counselor at Crisis Text Line. She received her MA in Software Engineering from Harvard, BSc in Finance & Healthcare Management from Wharton, and BA in Computational Biology from UPenn. Instagram: @marythewords

Cover photo by Nino Liverani on Unsplash