Ode to my mother peeling clementines

to the way she lines them up

like suns from another world

each demanding its own set of misshapen deities

to her thumbnail scalping each fruit

down to its tang

to every purse of plasma

the sour scald beneath our eyelids

when the juice erupts

to the pith we pull away like blistered skin

to the skins that curl inwards like spent omens

how they hold the scent

of our prayersmoke, our tofu-steam

long after we have stopped kneeling

to the way my mother bites the end of each segment

keeps only the bitterest for herself

to the benefits she recites

as she passes me the best parts —

to brighten your skin

to flush away your heat

to strip the white from your tongue

to help you swallow

to the pads of fat at the sides of her palms

that grow sticky as fresh hearts

to this sugared stitch that holds

two halves of the day together

Natalie Linh Bolderston is a Vietnamese-Chinese-British poet. In 2020, she received an Eric Gregory Award and co-won the Rebecca Swift Women Poets' Prize. In 2021, she was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her pamphlet, The Protection of Ghosts, is published with V. Press. Having grown up listening to multiple languages spoken by her family — and discussing meanings and archiving fragments of conversations — her work often concerns linguistic inheritances, distances and losses.