My Personal Favorite: Carlina Duan

Carlina Duan


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.

My Personal Favorite: Deborah Schwartz

***Post is a few days early because of the AWP conference.***


Black Star in the Black Sky, I See You

And you see a woman carrying another woman.

When they get to where they are going

they put each other down,

one at a time to buy their goods.

An accordion, no, a bagpipe’s open note plays

for all of us. It plays an etude of blood storms,

of arms hugging on for dear life.

You tell a man without too much hair

that life has not passed him by.

Life has passed me by, and in the passing

I am left with a cold strong wind soaring through me,

one that awakens my black star diamond snake song.

Song that I carry as you carry me.

For you, dear star cherished everyone’s little song,

then with very little effort, you wrote your own.

Down by the river, we have such a song to sing.

And our song is red with the fire of your nostrils.

And our song is snakes blowing cold death’s cold wind.

Down by the river, you build a kiln.

Down by the river, you bake me in the clay oven.

I am ready and burst out and walk down the street

and wave my hair at the cabs.

No one ever stops for me

so I am able to walk my whole life.

Yes, I am always walking.


Black Star in The Black Sky, How Can I Say Anything But Thank You?

We peer up into the sky when life seems too short

or too long. We wear our glasses to look.

We are pondering our lives across some kind of sky valley

one that seems so far but is indeed short and pondering.

Across a shopping mall, we try to change each other into cars.

We see each other as trees or smog or red poles.

We see each other as major pains-in-the-ass.

But the black star in the black sky is looking and while she is looking,

she is licking her chops with her love song.

La-dee-da-da is her love song.

We sing her love song as we drive toward one another in the parking lot.

We sing her old songs and that magical door opens.

We need love because I’m not saying love is kind.

I’m saying that love is mercurial.

La-dee-da-da is her love song.

When it snows we think the song is coming down to earth in a dot matrix.

The song infiltrates and carries on to the cold river when all we wanted was dinner.



Though she never reaped what she sold,

she sometimes laughed and bought the others coffee.

She who felt glad for other women.

She who made me think.

She had a light that came out of her belly button

no matter how they tried to suture it.

Though she sometimes visited others it worked out

because when she returned, she sang me their song.

Though her light is off, all of us are waiting for her in the Volkswagen.



Remember the women who carried one another?                                                      

Now we don’t carry.

Now we sit ourselves down in the blustery forest.

Now we make a fire and even when the wolves come we don’t retreat.                                                                                                                   



For every morning my beloved leaves,

It’s a small leaving, but I get to feel being alone.

I get to feel myself coming back but alone,

and without eyes or a tongue.

Without eyes or a tongue, I have nothing to see

and I have nothing to say, but I have something to feel.

Without eyes or tongue,

I don’t feel misled by what I was seeking

and am no longer tired by what has been leading me.

Now stripped of eyes to see and tongue to talk,

alone, alone, I feel the black quiet of the black sky.


I wanted the poems in this collection to be organized around this young woman’s coming of age tale, a very feminine/feminista white American Jewish first-generation middle class lesbian bildungsroman. I worked and worked on letting the self of the narrator, and letting the self of the poems reveal themselves to me (for lack of a better phrase) as I worked and worked and listened and listened to what the self, the narrator, and what each poem had to tell me in the language it had to tell it to me. This is tricky business, right? Because self–specifically, female, Jewish, queer–any “non hegemonic” (also for lack of better phrase) self identity is mitigated by the culture, society, and our own perceptions of who we are–as are the white and middle-class and first world identities of privilege that this narrator owns. And who’s to say what the language of self sounds like. But for me, this young woman, like all young woman also lives in this body, the kind that we all have, though they are all so different, and body is the place where the memory and self both live and express that self. In that way, the poems and the narrator were telling me stories about what it meant to live in this/her body, this/her cyst-feminine/lesbian/femme/feminista body that was sometimes disembodied due to the trauma of simply having/living in a feminine body within a patriarchal man-made world, and also living with some very specific but not always specified trauma. And that literally grounded the story–her body experience, the way she perceived the world, her stutter, her weird elliptical reclamation of her voice through her body experience. Some people call that healing. Ok, I’ll call it that.

That’s all to say that the question of favorites is also tricky. The poems in the collection seem to need each other, like sisters in a very extended family. They do fine when they leave one another, but they do better together. What though, if I tell you that I am in love with the last cycle poem, “Black Star in the Black Sky” because it came to me in a fury, and that rarely happens, and because without being summative, the poem reaches (insufficiently, of course) for cosmic answers of being and aloneness, and all the body, race, queer, female voice questions that the collections seems concerned with? I like the cosmic-ness of that cycle poem, the way it uses seasons and astrology (also incorrectly and flawed), and the way it wants to reach toward love, but is scared and falls back on it self and laughs at it’s huge insufficiency. I like the texture of the poems, spacey and floating– a body in search of a body, like an astronaut who never lands.


Deborah Schwartz is a poet and writer who teaches in the English Department at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA. A Girl Could Disappear Like This (Kattywompus Press, March 2019) is her first collection of poetry.