cover image Lunch Portraits

Lunch Portraits

Debora Kuan. Brooklyn Arts (SPD, dist.), $16 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-936767-50-2

In her placidly absurdist second collection, Kuan (Xing) nods to Frank O’Hara as she catalogues and exhibits the quotidian detritus that trails in the wake of a peculiarly American life, presenting them as details in a larger portrait. Food, in all its gleeful disposability, serves as one of the collection’s unifying themes. Kuan elucidates the ways in which eating can be helpful, hurtful, and symbolic: “When death sneaks too close/ I gnaw hard on a cob of corn// to get straight to the juice of life.” As the book’s mood slides between cheerful and phlegmatic, there are narrative winks of self-awareness (“I am grateful// for my head/ and for all the problems in it”), though they never turn preachy or gloomy. The collection’s longest poem, “121 Memories of an American Childhood,” is a twist on Joe Brainard’s I Remember, with Kuan proffering a litany of vintage American ephemera and culture (“Fashion Plates, Shrinky Dinks, and Lite-Brite”) mixed with the particulars of her own upbringing (“My parents translating Ronald Reagan on TV for my grandmother”). Kuan’s memories become strange objects in their own right, reminding readers that the trinkets and debris with which we surround ourselves tie us to a particular time and space as they help shape our identities. (Dec.)