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The moment we played the song of her spring
a startling change washed over my aunt—

only her eyes remained closed in sleep,
but her age poured off everything
else, her features slipping backwards
in time as the melody slipped through her ear
and kick-started the hidden, rusty mechanisms

of the body: new ink trickling
through each hair, skin smoothing out
like a shirt pressed under an unseen iron,
lips unfurling upwards like budding leaves,
having released the weights that had grown
heavy with years below the jaw.

By the chorus she was a young woman again.

We dared not wake her, afraid of breaking the spell.
Surely this was what people meant
when they spoke of music’s healing properties—
how it reminds the body that it was once
free of pain and full of possibilities.

Quietly and methodically
we lined up song after song
until we had a playlist that unfolded
across her decades—it would steer her
through a dream lasting lifetimes.
But after a few days of this, we realized
she would soon starve unless she woke up
to eat. If she lived
in beautiful young sleep forever
she might as well have been dead.
Slowly we wound down the music,
hoping it had undone enough damage …

As if she had been waiting for this intermission,
her lids lifted like heavy curtains, the night
within her peering out through the dark marbles
of her eyes, wet and tired, recalling who
she now was. Trapped. She had to come back
and so she was back, our aunt, our dear old aunt.

Yee Heng Yeh is a Malaysian writer and Mandarin-to-English translator. His poetry has been featured in The KITA! Podcast, adda, Strange Horizons, and a few local anthologies, and was shortlisted in the Malaysian Poetry Writing Competition 2021. His translations of poetry are forthcoming in Mantis. You can find him on Twitter @HengYeh42.
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4 Dec 2023

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