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Wài Gōng is Dancing

in a wool cap. in the bathtub. on market streets & in

the fat doorway of his first home, where jars overflow

with melon candies & a bicycle with a broken bell sags

against the window. he’s dancing in the soccer field,

the sweet potato cellar, the narrow hallway of the nation’s

seventy-fifth public school. outside: a flagpole, a lone sea

gull. the bell rings & boys billow past. my wài gōng

toe-taps, does a grapevine jig, caws for their

attention but the boys see past him, his swollen

body, his parched mouth. so he’s dancing into

our homes now, watching one of us braid abby’s

hair to dark twists & turns. dà yí lights the stovetop,

mutters a few words as the match sparks, then soots

to black in her palm. & there’s wài gōng again,

levitating against the pot of green peppers & tapping

his heels together, making that strange clanging sound,

vying for us to see. the fish in the tank gurgle. the milk:

sucked through a straw. when’s the baby due? the distant

cousin asks my cousin, and her mouth opens into a slow

moon, letting the breath fall out. leaving the house, then,

wài gōng sways into the yellow sea, tucking his arms behind

his back, vein-striped legs punching the brine. he’s chortling.

the vendors hawk cheap souvenirs: fake pearls coiled

into rings, dried squid packaged into plastic sacks.

the ocean dips and folds him up, giddy, delicious,

& wài gōng laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs

a laugh of fake teeth, soaked each night, for decades,

in clear sanitizing solution. last night, he died. we all

leaked a little light, watching him go, his granddaughters

& daughters, only a few of us by his side, the rest

scattered across the water, nestled into new tucks of land…

he lifts himself up. ocean, peach, sun light approaching

grave, water, grand father dancing, eating oranges

we’ll eventually leave for him at his tomb, joss sticks

we’ll roast til the red paper money smokes his way rich.

wrapped in a flag, he dances. somewhere out there, he

presses the boom box, silver buttons primed to PLAY.

PRAY. so much to feast on, in a life. the intimacy

of breath, the rippling kindness of white dough,

the forward slope of the living. past,

past it all, wài gōng slow dances.

the waves fill with salt, then spray.


CARLINA DUAN is the author of the poetry collection I Wore My Blackest Hair (Little A, 2017). She holds an MFA from Vanderbilt University, and is currently pursuing her PhD in the Joint Program of English & Education at the University of Michigan. She loves witnessing things grow.


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