Two Poems from Pebble Swing

Isabella Wang’s hotly anticipated debut collection Pebble Swing (Nightwood Editions) is an insightful look into identity and place that pieces together a family history in the resonant aftermath of the Chinese Cultural Revolution that took the life of Wang’s grandmother. Below, we share two poems from the book: “Ghazal for Heirloom Family Recipes” and “Expecting.”


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Ghazal for Heirloom Family RecipesMy grandmother taught me five different ways to deflesh a bitter gourd,how to scrape off the residue left from seeds so it would taste less bitter.Recipe for old-fashioned liquor: Replace the sugar cube with elderberries.In an ice-filled mixing glass, stir bourbon, St. Germain and bitters. The best coffee was served to me by a young woman at the Ethiopian café—it was sweet on its own, and permeated all the necessary tinges of bitterness. When you leave water in a cup for too long, it evaporates. Can’t saythe same about honey, but it’s beginning to clump. Tea leaves turn bitter. My grandfather died while eating crab and red wine—heart attack.This is a spell we are currently under, but I promise it won’t stay bitter.  Expecting
I arrive as a frisson of vomit rising
to rust her throat. Pith growing
in the marshy confines of her belly
tethered to her navel
and our game of tin-can telephone.
I kick, she rubs.
Baba lays down his head
and hears me tremor,
plays Beethoven from the other end.
Her blood tests anemic.
She is fed racks of Szechuan lamb,
fish stew, won ton soup,
uncooked oysters and chamomile
tea by Grandmother,
gags back six hard-boiled eggs
and a whole watermelon each day.
The midwives judge her size,
joke to the obstetrician
that four of us will transpire
in the delivery room.
Yeye demands a grandson
bearing his own name.

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Isabella Wang
is the author of the chapbook On Forgetting a Language (Baseline Press, 2019). She has been shortlisted for the Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry, Minola Review’s Poetry Contest, and was the youngest writer to be shortlisted twice for the New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest. Wang’s poetry and prose have appeared in over thirty literary journals and three anthologies, including Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Coach House Books, 2020) and They Rise Like A Wave: An Anthology of Asian American Women Poets (Blue Oak Press, 2021). She studies English and world literature at Simon Fraser University and is an editor at Room magazine. Pebble Swing is her debut poetry collection. She lives in Port Moody, BC.