An irrefutable tenderness permeates Emily Tian’s “China Canteen,” as the speaker gazes into the self-hood of her father, whose identity is pressed and pushed by the world at large “like a muddied tire.” This language has a unique grace, watching  “the god inking thank you/thank you/thank/you on the supermarket bags growing like calla lilies,” watching “peanut oil beating itself into rain.” Tian’s intuitive craft allows for poignant attention; free of judgment, this is a watchful poem, reliant on image, honoring a father, a culture, and language as one.  – Sophie Klahr



China Canteen


Come New Year’s, and my father becomes Jun
again, meaning soldier, my grandmother’s prayer
for strength. Other days he wheels from Juan, to June
to John, like a muddied tire, the telephone only ringing for John.

Tonight, though, his voice hushes over the soft ablution
of a year. The soot in his hair washed by monolid god, by no god,
by the god inking thank you/thank you/thank
you on the supermarket bags growing like calla lilies.

Forget slow linting of green cards on tabletops. Forget the
stumble-stop s and the bowed v. Memory welts inside him,
siphoned from his windpipes through the unlatched
window, where the sun waits like a flame.

Monsoon fryer: peanut oil beating itself into rain.
Wine poured in great smooth drags, and gulped down like a fish-man.
Fish and fortune taste the same in his mouth. Nian nian you yu
The light stammers so gently he could cry.



Emily Tian was born in 2001 and is a junior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. Her poems have been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Words Dance, The Cadaverine Magazine, The Claremont Review, and National Poetry Quarterly, among others.

Honorable mentions: Payton Carlson (Blue Valley Northwest High School, Overland Park, KS); Savannah Rae Clark (Plainview High School, Glenmora, LA); Rachel Dalai (Academy at Penguin Hall, Wenham, MA); Archika Dogra (Interlake High School, Bellevue, WA); Mai Hoang (Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH); Heather Jensen (Red Mountain High School, Mesa, AZ); Ralfo Manzur (Miami Arts Charter, Miami, FL); Anika Prakash (West Windsor- Plainsboro High School South, West Windsor, NJ); Mateo Strickland (Miami Arts Charter, Miami, FL); Miracle Thornton (Interlochen Arts Academy, Interlochen, MI); Valerie Wu (Presentation High School, San Jose, CA); Jessica Xu (Haynes Academy and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, New Orleans, LA); Adam Zhou (International School Manila, Philippines)

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