"Towards Smooth Quiet": Rona Wang on Cranesong

RONA WANG is a sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For her writing, she has been named a HerCampus 22 Under 22 and nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology. She is originally from Portland, Oregon.


Today, we are pleased to feature Rona Wang, former contributor and author of Cranesong (Half Mystic Press, 2019), on the blog. Rona guides us through the inspiration and themes behind “The Evolution of Wings,” one of the short stories available in her latest collection of work.

We are also participating in a giveaway alongside Half Mystic, where you will be eligible to win one of three physical copies of Cranesong. You can may enter here, and best of luck! Cranesong is a mediation on trauma, longing, flight, and the ways in which inheritance seeps into our bones, asking us to carry our histories with us wherever we go.

A few weeks after Thayer’s disappearance, Charlotte Beryl’s cluster of church choir friends came in all frantic with dangling tongues and mascara oozing down their cheeks. Their voices dovetailed into one story: they’d been eating lunch on the front lawn when Charlotte’s face twisted in a way faces shouldn’t. She fell to the ground as her hair sizzled into wreaths of rose-gold smoke. Brown mottled feathers julienned her skin into shreds.

—From “The Evolution of Wings”, Cranesong

Alas, I never turned into a bird in middle school—although it really would have come in handy during class presentations I hadn’t prepared for.

But luckily (or, perhaps, unluckily) for the students who populate “The Evolution of Wings,” avian metamorphosis is an epidemic in their town, for reasons no one quite knows. The two facts we learn about this strange plague: it only affects children and adolescents, and our narrator somehow escapes it.

There is a Chinese idiom, 精衛填海, which directly translates to “Jingwei tries to fill the sea.” It’s derived from the legend of a young girl who drowns in the Eastern Sea and  transforms into a bird. Afterwards, she spends endless days flying between mountain and water, dropping pebbles and twigs from the Western Mountains into the Eastern Sea in an attempt to fill it in, so that others will not suffer her fate. The loss of innocence symbolized through her metamorphosis into a bird inspired the basis of “The Evolution of Wings.”

I first drafted this short story at age eighteen, in between semesters of my first year in college. I didn’t feel anywhere close to an adult, yet I also wasn’t allowed to be a child anymore. I was waiting for this fabled metamorphosis that one is supposed to undergo in college, but it still hadn’t arrived—or maybe it had, in fact, struck, and I simply didn’t know. In high school, I had gravitated towards smooth quiet—the motion of mathematics, earbuds instead of conversation—and college was supposed to be wildness, brilliant gold, the quickness of names exchanged in a single breath. Yet somehow I was still the same, tethered to the past, while it seemed everyone else around me was becoming themselves.

So came “The Evolution of Wings”, a piece about endless change, about watching everyone else soar off into some distant horizon while you remain flightless. Aside from “Dissonance” (which was written in high school but revised immensely in 2018), it’s the oldest story in the collection. Cranesong’s themes are rooted in this story: the immense sacrifice diaspora requires; how trauma is inherited and inherited and inherited; the difficulties of growing into yourself.