when the coral copies our fashion advice

bleach blonde was the look of the summer: 

colorless skeleton of polyps and aging fish spines.

rocks smoothly slate gray as salt water

grinds it down; it had no algal coat to protect and

nourish, no obsidian shelled mussels hanging off

the edges, beating themselves to the rhythm of the tide.


the moon rises and so the tide flows, warming waves

crashed, blue hypoxic seafoam gurgled a last 

lament. when the seagull cried out for the last time,

it took the flock with it. once upon a time,

if you cupped blue with spread out fingers, either sky

or sea, you could observe life teeming in between your knuckles.


you can’t help but paint old histories in pink watercolors:

take the brush, cover the blemishes, brighten the hues,

you don’t know what parts are real and which parts you wish were.


a truth: bleach blonde did not stay after summer. girls found their hair

was too crackly, brittle from constant treatment. we started

thinking maroon silk was better than sulphureous wires stuck

to scalps with elmer’s glue. life breeds life, their hair was already dead

but the reef still clung like a damsel in distress. if it was rapunzel,

it would’ve let down its hair for anyone, if only they’d climb the tower.


you replant a polyp, a seedling you nurtured to life, it is its

time to fledge. you lace your fingers together and

cautiously peer into the snowglobe you have shaken back to life:


tangs so bright they turn chartreuse

at noon, cinnabar anemones with squirming tentacles,

emerald seagrass plush to the touch. tilt your head, 

and see the terns circling, wide white wings casting shade

as a warning. they are the most polite predators


you think you have ever seen; when smog clogged 

city streets and winter air turned tepid, we sent

no heads-up: perhaps this might be your last century;

best prepare your trembling lungs, your hummingbird hearts, bleached

platinum is our new gold. painting the color back into

coral’s white skeleton is our apology. we try so the message we 

never sent will not come 



Author: Ashley Bao

Ashley Bao is a Chinese-Canadian-American high school junior. She spends her time writing and dreaming, mostly about cats. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Liminality, Strange Horizons, Cast of Wonders, and elsewhere.

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