CARLINA DUAN is a writer from Michigan. She is the author of the poetry collection I WORE MY BLACKEST HAIR (Little A, 2017). Her poems can be found in Black Warrior Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, The Margins, and elsewhere. She is currently the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Nashville Review, and an MFA Candidate in Poetry at Vanderbilt University, where she teaches Poetry. She has a sweet tooth. Find her at www.carlinaduan.com.
by Carlina Duan
“CAN YOU SPEAK ENGLISH YES OR NO”
always hurled out an open car door. from a bus stop. a door handle
opening to a friend’s home. her parents set the table. bone
china and a polished casserole dish. always, the picture book splayed
open, revealing an illustrated apple, black seeds, gnawed over
by caterpillars. always my face, which is not enough.
my tongue, which curls and curls and remains tethered.
letters coiled like grape vines around the tip. roman
alphabet digging at the space between my gums. consonants
dropped like bricks, I chew their weight. always some man
telling me what I am, what we already know. say it right / say
it / say— can you read / can you speak / English / English / yes,
no. in this story, always, I am jumping over parts, skipping
them. can you see me. can you see. I entered the car and turned
off the engine. I looked into his face. I opened my mouth and let
it all roll out: a spell, an incantation, hiss / miss / fist / a caterpillar
slung off a silken web. today I am what I always am. girl. thistle.
my mouth closing, closed again. and when I swallow, watch
where the spit goes. down a throat, a chest, a rib. watch
me flex a wrist, witness it. this sly, unbreakable bone.
IN THE MODERN ENCYCLOPEDIA FOR BASKETBALL
men make jump shots and leave blue ink on the pads of my fingers.
there are years of sweet grass. there are years where I dance alone
on a court made of asphalt, and baba tells me to remember I am
great. the fish in the sea splash their teeny tails and cannot touch
me. I’m unstoppable! clogs on my feet, my wingspan stretched
out to the treetops. remembering I descend from a man who once
drove me through the entire car wash: soap suds lingering over
the frame of the car, wiping away crusts of bird shit, dirt, the even
hum of the engine as it propelled us forward, forward, and even then,
I loved to watch a machine grow clean, cleaner. I loved to watch
my baba at the wheel, talking about zebra fish in dishes of cool
water. here I am now, darting between pages — photographs of men
wearing capes that say CHAMPION, only I’m the champion now,
rich with sweat. rich as a daughter can be: watching her father’s
mouth open into a small pearl as the Chinese opera disc spins. on
the page, the ball falls into the hoop. and he begins, off-key, to sing.