top of page



by Tina Mai

i. mama wears her heritage as skin. / against the millpond

anointed with algae and clay, we weave our yellow pulse upon /

split belly, / gumming lotus / seeds / in the tadpole of our 

teeth. / mouthless, we hide / in the space between bones where

the earth / sung of mud and peels, fallen and starved, to fold


ii. into skin. / how this skin betrays us. / I remember thumbing

through fishpools slick with summer sweat, / when my grandmother

tucked / me into her fossil–– / where she was from / women grew 

from earth, grew limbs as a pickerel, bled grain / against the villagescape.

how their bodies danced of 


iii. warmth. / how their tongues, not a tongue, / starved mouthless in 

the palm of the earth; / how they deserved words. yet / we as 

foreigners are deserted in the wetlands, / and when we open our mouths

there is only koi / sodden of crustaceans, / silent as salt, / and when


iv. we pray for words they only unfurl of tongku and weight. / they

flow out of us, tongueless. / dear mama, teach me / to wear my

heritage as skin, / teach me to needle / my throat / through the 

pondwater. / lake-starved, we will bleed upstream, / fishing for

all the things


v. we yearned to be.


Tina Mai is a 16-year-old writer and the inaugural OC Youth Poet Laureate. Her writing has received recognition from the Library of Congress, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Poetry Society of the UK, Bow Seat, the North Carolina Poetry Society, and the CSLA, among others. She is also the youngest recipient of the Atlanta Review International Poetry Award, in addition to being a Best New Poets nominee and a Scholastic National Gold Medal winner in poetry. Outside of writing, she finds passion in public speaking and computer science, including developing an app to aid writing accessibility through spoken word stories. 

bottom of page