Of Pencils & Moon-Breasts
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
but i know not these words, tapestries,
galaxies beyond a
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR