Debora Kuan holds degrees from Princeton University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was awarded a Graduate Merit Fellowship. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Boston Review, Conduit, Crowd, Fence, Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, The L Magazine, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She has been awarded a Bread Loaf work-study scholarship, Fence/Summer Literary Seminars fellowship, and a Fulbright fellowship to Taiwan. Presently, she writes and makes book art in Princeton, NJ.

Three Poems by Debora Kuan


                Is that thing alive? I hear a famisht howl.
                           -John Berryman, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet

We stopper the head with gum wads.

Warn or warm
what elfs one—
bring the brain about & wet it.


Now we are the headless mannequins. Plainly lain. C minor, autumnal, post-guillotine. We scratch each otherís necks.

Concavity as sympathy: the way a beggar shapes his hands. Or, I walk twenty days to meet a phantom pain: a chrome insistence beneath the brow, a steady soreness scrapes the bridge. Far ahead, a lamp-like face. It feigns surprise.

This is the other side of glass. A song, trapped in a snuffbox.

What replaces voice: pet cricket, tuning fork, zither placed upon a city wall. Our shoulders slump forward, our palms gesture upward. What has been renewed. Obedience of no nominal value: fermata held indefinitely.

Get in there. Expose (matter): rope & flesh, clef & salt. A tendency to tire.

Light as falsification: my shadow with balloon.

How to Take Black-and-White Pictures


Imagine a painted door. Owl eyes. A tiny blue egg
arranged on a ladder with other birdís eggs.
Rat bells, as in, You hear rat bells all along the wall.
It helps you. You get some sleep in the bathtub,
draw a horse-head with a soapy finger. It dissolves. Two sun streaks.
You are the maid-of-honor, you are the private equestrian.
What you like. Rained-out appointments. A tall carafe.
Card-games and hand-me-down sweaters.
Imagine a house packed with jacks. Dishes piled, a man-servant.
Snapshot. Your last journal entry reads: The Last Supper.
It wakes you. You want a floor to drag a doll over.
An armoire. A barrel of tar. The heaviest thing will do.


Imagine owl eyes, all along the wall. A colored egg
hidden in the fireplace. A sunburn. You step into a painted hole.
Mothballs, as in, A bee-shaped jewel you keep in mothballs.
It alarms you. You get some sleep in the dentistís chair, dream
of a pair of saints. They drag their feet. Two ice-cubes.
You are the state senator, you are the private doll-maker.
What you like. Apothecaries. Seven-layer cakes.
A set of flattened spoons. It helps you.
Imagine a fur shop packed with rats. A window dressing. An itch.
You switch cameras. Your first journal entry reads:
Found a frozen blue jay on the front step today. It reminds you.
You want a sea to toss sandbags over. A door-stop
of catís-eye marbles. A dead motor. The steadiest thing will do.

Confessions of Porcelain Animals

From out of a sea-pipe or -groove, a child
smiles back. Its one lost eyelash
a miniature seascape (gull-swept wisp
and brine). We fasten its bonnet with new brass pins,
stuff acetaminophen
where its wind-up once was.

At night, the spotted owls loop jimmy, jimmy, jimmy.
Their sooty plumage strewn.

We learn by mimicking the inaudible,
the dead eagle now
spread-eagle, the dollís lips slightly
curled in speech.

Now these painted hands and painted feet.
Now the skipping record Jealousy   the dog
with the transparent         coat.

We learn by rote. By milk and panada and pap.
(In infancy, we sucked a cowís horn.)
-The childís too weak to be washed.
-Then rub it in salt and wine.