Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Xing, poems by Debora Kuan


Chao’s double portraits are always of the same person. Lin sitting in the chair, and Lin standing next to the chair. O homonym. Ad hominem. This is one version of memory: The person you dream of is always in duplicate. Or, he swells in size to enormity, lost in layers of sheepskin, and you meet him in blackened cities, as soon as you step out the door.

Look at it another way: One digs a hole to hide the hole the divot made. Around Chao’s neck dangles a little necklace of pins pulled from grenades.

Today, I am in the felt tent, sorting scraps. In the street, a sheet metal worker is setting fires.
There is something about the unexpected subtlety, the small moments in Debora Kuan’s first trade collection of poems, Xing (Ardmore PA: Saturnalia Books, 2011) that resonate, long after the poems have ended. Opening her collection with near-conflicting definitions of “xing,” hers is a book that has cultural resonances that cross and conflict, one idea banging straight up against another, and the twists in her poems are equally tremendous. Consider the opening poem, “Articles of Faith,” that talks about the Book of Mormon and Buddhism, and writes out the conflict one might feel holding both ides, present. From the middle section:
On my way to the post office, I collide with Uncle Chen.
Uncle, I say, you look so

Uncle Chen today. I like the way you
drape your bright chen, it feels
exquisitely Marxist, and I know you are proud to be uncle.
Your socialist car is appropriately rusted, the doors
no longer shut.
Everywhere the magpies are falling, my wires constrict
around the wrists and ankles.
When will it stop?
On the surface, the poems might read as rather ordinary, but there is a dark and complex undercurrent that runs beneath every one, that suggest the poems are barely able to keep themselves from spinning entirely out of control. I admire her twists, and her control.
The Silkmaker’s Bride

The mulberry sheds its owl-shape.
It is guileless now.
Closed zoo, dark school.
A shawl over each unseen thing
that orbits.
Orbits: The worm spins a warm prize.

How can I criticize
the suitor’s offer—a fist of silk
dense as a pendant?
How can I not notice
the spot on the wall, lighter than sun?
Something hung there once.

The bridal veil is unusually heavy.
A frostbitten flag.
I have a cowl around my neck,
but it is no twin to kiss.

Such is this family’s fortune—used-up
a harvest of cocoons.

The solitary pedal endeavors:
Its needle’s eye sated with thread,
a child’s mouth plugged with milk.

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