Wood, by Jessica Li


“Lian Sheng Lu’s work captures the nature of the written word.” — Shandong Daily News (trans. Chinese to English)


Here is what I remember: the soft curves

of a branch, fitted and formatted into a phrase—

“friend,” 朋友. His weathered hand holding

his chin gingerly, head tilted in rumination.


My grandfather searched the backyard for twigs

all afternoon, pieced them together like a god

crafting his servants, words of a poem we’d forgotten

derived from tree roots. A sprig with a knot on its side,


limbs with markings scorched into membranes.

He made calligraphy wooden—physical, three-

dimensional, harder than meaning itself. Life breathing

through the pores of chipping lumber: a vessel


of wisdom, burning fires in the lines of his palm. He liked

to think he was smart. Documentaries were birthed,

the new art form was found—writing in wood. The thicket

of creativity found rolling on the ground, crunched


underneath a shoe. Aphorisms we didn’t understand

glued to a book, nestled together. We tried

to understand the way his mouth opened

to spit on the ground, the shuffle of his slippers


when the water started boiling. His hair, the color

of ivory, the complaints of the new generation

running down the sink. The same neuroticism he gave

my mother carved into something permanent.


He once said there’s meaning in everything but everything

is not a location, latitude longitude, city comma state.

If a tree becomes a word glued in a book

collecting dust did it ever really say anything,


or does it lay still, soft in the closing light.