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
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)