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.
My current favorite poem is: In The Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball, found in Peach Mag.
I wrote this poem on the sixth floor of a university library about a year ago, flipping through the actual Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball — a thick brick of pages wrapped in a blue cover, published in 1969 by Zander Hollander. At the time, I was working on a longer suite of nonfiction essays about basketball, Asian identity, and desire. I encountered the actual Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball during my research process. Around the time of this writing, I was also interested in who gets culturally portrayed as fluent or foreign in the context of speech, and in the context of sport. I was interested in the concept of the encyclopedia — what gets contained? What gets attributed (or misattributed)? Who arrives to the encyclopedia — and in pursuit of what? I’ve always been fascinated by language, and the clinical language of an encyclopedia for basketball intrigued me, particularly because we think of an encyclopedia as a source-text; we are beholden to its fact and its science. At times, however, privileging the encyclopedia can mean we privilege a certain type of knowledge and overlook the knowledge of personal narrative, of storytelling, of emotional root. In flipping through this particular encyclopedic volume, I witnessed pages of terminology, black and white photographs of (primarily white) men. I thought about the ways that my own encyclopedic knowledge of basketball — while very limited in scope — is still knowledge. My knowledge of basketball contains a sense of intimacy, a sense of care and duty, a sense of lineage. In my poem, I wanted to reclaim the love I have for basketball and for good fathers. I wanted to write in — and perhaps expand — the image of Chinese fathers, who so often are portrayed in popular culture or literature as stoic, unfeeling, strict. I wanted, instead, to write a Chinese father into an encyclopedia of motion, to “tender-ize” (and here, I mean to make soft, tender, critical) and begin again. To question what we think we know, or are capable of knowing.
The father in my poem is joyous, he’s bold, he’s singing, he’s alive. The speaker celebrates him. She loves him. There is motion and there is speed and there is a hoop and there is, always, a life that is made possible by care, by trust, by nodding to the ones who have come before, sang to us, lifted a ball, shot it in.
CARLINA DUAN is a sister, a poet, a friend, a fan of basketballs and sugar. She hails from Michigan, and has taught writing in classrooms across across the state, as well as Malaysia, California, and Tennessee. Carlina is the author of I WORE MY BLACKEST HAIR (Little A, 2017), and the chapbook Here I Go, Torching (National Federation Poetry Societies, 2015). Carlina is the winner of multiple Hopwood awards, a Fulbright grant, the Edna Meudt Poetry Award, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and the 1st Place Winner of Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest. Her poems can be found in Black Warrior Review, Tupelo Quarterly, The Margins, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in Poetry from Vanderbilt University, where she served as the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Nashville Review.