Carlina Duan

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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

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-
   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.

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.

First published in AAWW's The Margins.


Carlina Duan hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poems have been anthologized and published in Uncommon Core, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Margins, and Berkeley Poetry Review, among others. Her first full-length poetry collection, “I Wore My Blackest Hair,” is forthcoming from Little A in 2017.