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Of Pencils & Moon-Breasts

CAS for Database

Taylen Huang

Shanghai, China

YK Pao School


mama teaches me to write

                callused fingers riding the nubby

                                old-man of a pencil, rusted

                                   metal joint glinting feebly like a

                worn gauntlet in the night – a shadow-cloth

if I force my eyes open, to believe it, then it is there.

stroke after stroke—she is too

                precise, pressing too hard, like

                                maybe indenting the white will

                                 erase the black inside her pencil body, so

                the gray will not nestle in her

hair, wiry smeared charcoal

               i do not question.

once i learned the symbols

               the loops, the blunt dashes

                                the dots that i liked to make

                                      voluptuous & plump, like the suggestive curve of

                                             a Breast blossoming bare—

                                                    oh, i have seen them all right, the moon-colored girls

                                                    blooming in magazines, their pointed

                                      roundness & unabashed beauty, while

               her wizened hand guides mine

stringing them together


i connect the letters myself

                & ask her

                              what to write?

                                              her leathered forehead squinting,

                                                              the corners of her lips cracking spider-lines

                                                                              she is clay, ancient & unforgiving &

                                                              secretly i wish for her

                                              to close those mud lips

                              feathered by dead skin,

                drawing shut like mildewed blinds

over corn-kernel teeth,

                but i cannot utter a syllable.

at night in the straw-bed i imagine we share,

                rust-stained dreams foam forth from her gape-toothed

                                 mouth about gold-spawned fields &

                                                gritty flax-cloth soured by the sun,

                                                              milk that runs in rivulets down to tender pink

                                                                            staining black & white-spotted hide.

                                                                       skies that rage & storm terrible tantrums,

                                                   bless the soil with bitter seedlings, poison

                                 pulpy sweet fruit; the Earth is a seductress

                but does not fool the stick-thin villagers

tanned by whip-sharp winds, who have sowed & plowed

                for eternities.

but i know not these words, tapestries,

                galaxies beyond a

                                six-year-old’s lexicon

                                               so i draw her instead, a wizened old pencil

                                                             cradling the crescent of her youth—

                                               mama said that whatever i wanted, i can have

                                 when i learn to read & write,

                   so finally, finely educated by her hand & the magazines

i lay down my pencil, my girlhood, my love on the flat paper &

               wish for my own moon-Breast.


Using a creative visual structure and rhythmic descriptions of the speaker practicing writing, “Of Pencils & Moon-Breasts” builds a unique and thoroughly tranquil atmosphere, matching its dreamlike but grounded story. The subdued intimacy it depicts is hard to forget, and its undulating stanzas will guide you through a relatable mother-daughter scene, a reminder of the tender and hopeful aspects of growing up.

Taylen Huang is a high school student from Shanghai, China. Besides writing/reading at the most ungodly hours, she enjoys debating, basketball, and figuring out ways to make avocados actually palatable. An alumna of the Iowa Young Writers Studio, her work has been recognized by Inlandia, Chautauqua, and Bow Seat. She was also Grand Prize Winner of the 2021 Writing For Peace Young Writers Contest.


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