Carlina Duan


in the museum I watched birds tessellate 
into fish. wings flipped to gills, scales
to feathers. I wanted, too, to shape
shift. standing alone in front of a wall, bare
save the school—no, the flock—of moving
things, I touched my collarbone, I touched

my throat. outside, a cloud touched
another cloud, burst into rain. in tessellation:
the earth, the mud, a warmer planet. move
aside, you who do not yet believe in the scale
or the scope: we’re poisoning our waters, Y said, bare
foot while we cooked our fish to flatter shapes

in the oven, and I thought about all the shape
memory of salt. soft, oblong, seaweed touching
soil or swimmer. somewhere, plants recede, I couldn’t bear 
it, an old friend said of the forests, cut to tessellations
under other men’s hands, so he took to scaling
rocks. sliding down them. what use am I? I move

from one exhibit to the other. a museum of moving
pictures, ancient clay, thin wire rods. I catch the shapes
of ghost-limbs and feet behind the glass. for scale,
I squint, press a thumb — the sign reads, Please, do not touch!
so I do. a museum: where history goes to tessellate,
writhe. I ogle at porcelain, shelves of bare 

canvas. some days, I don’t want to bear
witness. some days, I want only to move
inside the dirt, shout!               mid-tessellation,
I gather all the shapes
my anxiety makes. touch
and go. water and fold. scaling

up, I remember water, I remember wet scales
glinting on the backs of trout. always bare,
the sterile frame of a museum—which will never fit the touch
of running water, never fit the movement
of my palms cupping little leek seeds, shapely
stalks of green I touch & I touch, repeating: breathe, breath, tessellate.

Carlina Duan is a writer-educator from Michigan, and the author of the poetry collections I Wore My Blackest Hair (Little A, 2017) and Alien Miss (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2021). Carlina holds an MFA from Vanderbilt University, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, where she serves as the Poetry Editor for Michigan Quarterly Review. Among many things, she loves river walks, snail mail, and being a sister.