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When I Boiled the Corn

i thought first
about minnows

& my father’s brow
lifting each time he
drew flights of fish
on blank paper — fins
glinting like proper
coins. he would draw
them in his highest
anger, mandarin &
english drilling
currents thru his
mouth:

fuck / man
warrior / pig

words he
couldn’t catch
with a rod– or
his hands.

the corn came in
husks which i
tore off.

my father’s
tongue was not
torn, but rather,
steamed: english
vowels & consonants
hitting hot air, pink
roof of the mouth,
hissed & flung out
at the gas station,
at the university
lab. this is what
we’re going to do
today do you un-
derstand? english
bolted itself to my
throat and my father
did not move, watched
me eat yogurt & ride
a scooter til the english
battery powered my
jaw, my hands, my
father drew fish
and did not flick
the switch, alphabet
chafed my thighs
& moved me, up
& down a street
where i owned
syllables untouched
by my father:

gold / good / god
home / help / him / amen

when i first called
my father an ass-
hole in english he
did not stand up
but shook in his
chair & that is when
i knew the knife
had cinched a fish-
eye, its round & simple
jelly, lifted towards
the ceiling, no hope
or muscle left,
no nothing at all.

everywhere
around me:
kernels of
corn so hot
to swallow.

before i reach the lid
there is the steam
and a crystallized
sheet of brown water
at the bottom of
the pan, yellow ears
wet & pronounced. i
think of how the chinese
character for loss
is one i must memorize
from the internet, so
come dinnertime i say
nothing, press my fingers
into the pan & this
is how i burned
the corn. how
i fed my father.

 

Letting the Dogs Out
Ann Arbor, Michigan

on my tongue : clove and ginger. spit, shimmer.
flecks of black pepper. in another country
friends I love grow out their hair.
in another country, my grandfather’s ashes
press primly beneath the ground. I am lonely
here, when all around me, lemongrass grows.
out my throat, noises swim. I howl and I
howl. a woman calls me by another woman’s
name. Franny, she says. I am not Franny:
I am brick, elbow. with my mouth I
swallow wrinkles of light. in my armpits
there are clumps of black hair. men call me,
I do not call them back. I tilt my chin,
I slice a lime: firm, green disc. I hold it nicely
in my hands. it is the lunar year. there is
a lunar moon. I check my horoscope.
I check the news: bullets. ghosts that trail
the dirt, disguised as cups of milk, sparrows.
I check my sister’s face, this is what wonder
must be. filled with holes. a moon, a gold-rush.
pig-tails. once, my Chinese grandfather died.
once, I barked: a wild animal. once,
a man said This isn’t a cultural study This is
a literary study and I touched the tips of my
hair. I slammed my face into the
window of a school-bus, where, in the back,
boys chanted WHO LET THE DOGS OUT
WHO-WHO-WHO-WHO and the glass cooled
me, my stern wrist, my sterner heart. every-day
there was a wall. there was a wallet. there was
my mother packaging miàn tiáo by the sink.
breath in the morning. breath in the afternoon.
the way history comes back to haunt me with
a plump fist. the way my mouth, a cave, opened
and closed. my family told me Do not forget it
and I did not. my love for lamps, my love for
noodles. my hurt when they lashed my name
with their throats. CHINA. CHINA. YOU
EAT DOGS. the wheels on the bus
go round and round. we lurch we lurch.
we spit we spit. we remember our names,
carved sharply into the walls.

Carlina Duan is a Chinese American poet with a sweet tooth. She hails from Michigan, and currently lives in Malaysia—where she spends her days teaching, hydrating, and admiring her backyard banana tree. She has work published/forthcoming in Berkeley Poetry Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Bodega, and elsewhere.

Angie Sijun Lou is a photographer and writer from Seattle. She lives in Brooklyn.

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