Poetry: 3 Poems by Carlina Duan
These three poems by Carlina Duan, demanding to be published together, intimately reveal family: “Portrait with Bok Choy in Pan” animates the kitchen, the cook’s tender art; “The Older Sister” aches with sibling affection; while “On Mackinac Island, I Cast a Spell” twirls with girlhood by the sea, youthful vitality.
PORTRAIT WITH BOK CHOY IN PAN
my sister plucks leaves, chops them atop the cutting board.
green blurs beneath the water. when we were small,
we’d clasp our bowls with two hands, calling for
yóu cài! yóu cài! eyeing those shimmery fine stalks
slanted on top of rice. we were raised to be sisters.
see the oil swim, the oyster sauce spreading
its sheen above the lip. she casts the pepper
like a spell: shake, unspool. first the vegetable oil,
then the garlic cloves, then the generous dash of salt.
what we love, we run like oil over skin: stovetop air,
light dressing our wrists, slender leaves arcing
towards the roof & made all tender once oil strikes
the pan. she guides the spatula, coaxing them to cook,
thinking green and steady, river of oil, eat, eat, eat.
THE OLDER SISTER
is standing in the corner of the Malaysian gym
and dreaming about sea coral, spilling. or a horse
nickering its soft snout into her hands. hay
and pleasure and great gold barrels of it.
she is remembering what it feels like to be
a sister. hands splayed out, two starfish.
how much she misses it: soft pillow, a reel
of fabric, falling asleep next to some body
you trust. the older sister is holding the boxing
gloves as thick as roast chickens around her
fists. Hanifa’s voice brays at the edge of her ear,
jab, jab, cross! jab, her hands held up to
her face. ode to this body during crossover, a
day’s magnificent sheen. there is too much in
this world she wants to protect. mushrooms with
their waxy middles. her sister’s sweet, round
chin. clocks, tarantulas, laws with fists,
so much to dodge and pummel but the older
sister is the oldest and therefore, she must.
take a swing. hit, hit. do not miss.
ON MACKINAC ISLAND, I CAST A SPELL
summer in Michigan with my hair up and my neck
released to the wind, breathless flap & gild of fish
skin sitting in ice chips at the market. a dog remains
chained to a skinny pole. a woman spikes a ball
fast over the net. o, riverbed. o, sash tied around
my neck. o, lips I part as I walk past a new body
of water and love what I love and stir it all into
a cauldron: eggplant, plastic fork, black & wet
eye wedded to the water. I fashion a kite
out of old skirt-hems. I push two silver
buttons through my earlobes. I admire
the rows of produce: yams, beets, onions,
roses plump with green veins. a day is juicy
with clouds. a body, juicy when kissed.
summer in Michigan with air parting delicious
for my knees as I roll down the hill on a
blue bike, past the horses pattering clip-clop
along a dirty street, past the fudge shop thick
with blocks of sugar, on my bike I roll & roll
& fall, tumble near the lake, where a garden
snake hunkers in wet grass & my breath goes
up, then down…lungs: winged instruments
I take into my body, then let fly.
Carlina Duan is a writer from Michigan, and 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 student in Poetry at Vanderbilt University. She has a sweet tooth.