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Marco Yan


Warming milk in a pot to the point I don’t want milk anymore,

I add a spoonful of cocoa and let it rest on the surface.

A scatter of brown stars, deeply rusted like the dead

I once looked up to, comes together in a white sky

I can now look down on—a miniature galaxy, slowly forming,

all in my head maybe, contained by the stainless steel.

For a moment I feel almighty in this kitchen, my power

of fire on the stove and my power of water

resting in the faucet, and I stand here to guide every speck,

however unrelated they are, to swirl clockwise,

one tendril taking shape, taking over the ones

that begin to sink, then engulfed by another.

Will the rest of loneliness arrive with the milk brought to a boil, blackening?

Over the sheen, the remaining clumps, a brow appears,

then the bridge of a nose between one and a half eyes.

They blend into what seems like the lower lip of someone

I’ve forgotten, or tried to. I stoop closer to the steam,

making out the line that has become a chin,

below it a birthmark fading.

Speaking of Guilt

That afternoon when all the oaks were young,

the clouds long and white across the sky

like the blanks in an English workbook

I didn’t want to fill, my brother and I were big

in front of the hamsters my mother brought

to teach us compassion for smaller lives.

They were the wind-up toys we never had,

automatons with fur scrambling along the grout.

We crawled behind and forced them into a forest

of chairs beneath the dinner table. As I turned,

one found its way into the narrow space

marked by the tile’s smoothness and my kneecap.

I didn’t know how many bones broke in that instant—

the sound of cracking my knuckles before piano class,

before the scale of B major I was struggling with,

and I never thought of the felt between hammers and strings.

Even my mother hadn’t dealt with a death so tiny—

she placed it on my left palm, my brother watching me.

Its hair stiffened, slowly prickly, a beige pincushion,

completely mine, while the other one ran on the wheel.

What grave? I could let it rest in the trash,

a bed of onion peels and fish innards,

flush it to the South China Sea, or toss it out

the window at night and see it descend, dissolve,

but it was still warm in my hand—

this hand of mine,

8,000 miles from home now, lost in the Village.

I begin to think about how some god would be bored

watching me roam in this row of brownstones,

how his enormous hand could pick me up or drop

an air-conditioner on my head, and ignore the chance

that my brother is out there somewhere thinking of me.

I make my bed. I brush my teeth. I eat my hard-boiled eggs.

Perhaps I’m heading straight to a small death,

while the spilt coffee trickles down my wrist,

my burnt palm refusing to close.


Marco Yan is a Hong Kong-born poet, whose work appears or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Prairie Schooner, The Margins, The Louisville Review and more. He currently lives in Brooklyn. He loves animals. Read more at

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