Bowling Pin Fire

Bowling Pin Fire



About the book

Building on earlier explorations of memory, sexuality, and culture that are the signatures of Andy Quan’s best work, Bowling Pin Fire transcribes the arc of one man’s life from growing up Chinese in Vancouver, to seeing the world through the lens of fearless, free-spirited youth, to arriving at the initial cautionary glimmerings of midlife.

About the author

Quan, Andy

Andy Quan's previous books include Slant (poetry), Calendar Boy (short fiction), Six Positions (gay erotica), and Swallowing Clouds, an Anthology of Chinese Canadian Poetry (as co-editor).

His poems and stories have also appeared in anthologies, magazines, and literary reviews around the world. Of Cantonese origin, he was born in Vancouver and has lived in Toronto, Brussels, and London, England.

Also a singer and songwriter, he makes his home in Sydney, Australia, where he works on regional and international HIV and AIDS issues.



I trampled those days, a lion, believed
in myself with a ferocity that has since
never been the same. They were days
when self-knowing became real, a dented
bud of a tulip infused with its own
fragility and what it might reveal.
I’d discovered Great Men. This late
in the century, in so vast a country, so
few gay poets. On my invitation, you
read for the university’s first gay
pride week. The dance that night,
dining tables upended, chairs stacked
in corners, nervous men and women
from town mixed with students. I dressed
in what I hoped gay men might wear. You
asked my straight friend to dance, he tried
not to show how proud he was not to
be an oaf, and when it was our turn, after
odd late-eighties tracks and disco throw-
backs: everything you held high and told
yourself was true
. It was my first dance
with another man, my right hand
awkward upon your hip. You told me
it was your favourite Joni Mitchell song.
We glided, slow-motion skaters, on that
cafeteria’s hardwood floor, the man I
would become blooming in the distance,
pairs of men and pairs of women in our
orbit, dim lights suspended from the old
rafters above. As the days come down to you.


The secret connections between Chinese fathers.
Grocer, banker, mechanic, photographer, bowling
alley proprietor. Their exchanges inexact: a carton
of this season’s first mangoes, a queue-jump to settle
a mortgage, a replacement muffler, professional
portraiture. Quality was scrimped only when all
agreed which corners to cut. The Spanish call it
enchufe—a socket when filled poured more
delicious currents of electricity. And flow it did
from one family to another. I tried keeping track
of Father’s cronies—my map remains a crayon sketch
gone amok, the wax outlines losing shape. My own
network is unanchored and rootless. My friends stop
at random airports, fight to pay for meals. We email
and skype. I seldom know where they live.

I grew up on Valley Drive sharing space with glass
fishing balls, an ox-blood Ming vase, a painting
of Dad’s childhood home, another of teen-aged mom,
porcupine fish—inflated, dried, and hung from ceilings,
Bill Reid prints, tiny baskets from far-flung tribes.
Our names marking our bedrooms. The living room
fireplace not often used, Vancouver winters too
mild. We seldom gathered there, burnt only
wood from someone’s backyard, the deconstructed
frame of a neighbour’s toolshed, pinecones dipped in
a crumbling chemical the texture of icing sugar
with a tint of green food colouring. They glowed
emerald, then pumpkin orange, tiny bombs of light.


Traffic backed up on the Second Narrows Bridge, they’d
closed our lane and made us merge, I saw the car swing
up beside ours. My seven-year-old mouth cried don’t
let him in
. You inched forward a hand’s width, so tiny
a provocation to cause such honking and shouting.
The moustached man, sleek and muscled, eyes narrow, leapt
out, cursing, yelling, engine running. Then you were
circling each other, a dance of men. He spat on the hood
of our station wagon. You tried to match his mark, spit
forming at your lips, but it was not in you to. He grabbed
your placid businessman’s wrist, pinned it against your belly.
I don’t know who was trying to hit or defend, the man’s face
crayoned with rage. He saw me and let go. Swore one last
time. We shut ourselves back in, could not speak, his
saliva still not dry, its separate bubbles like sad
jewels or the eyes of an insect. I felt your shame,
I, who had perhaps saved you, who had caused all this.


"Let it all hover in the air like fireflies" opens the poem "Speaking Your Poetry Aloud": "see them pirhouette, rearranging/their constellations, even if you have never/known fireflies and this analogy is misplaced." Quan's writing has been described as "conversational simplicity… >>

Prairie Books NOW

In an era of HIV/AIDS the fragility of life is omnipresent alongside the blossoming and wilt of relationships. For a man of Chinese heritage to be candid about his homosexuality and to describe that passion so tenderly and honestly is… >>

Northern Poetry Review

Bowling Pin Fire is a fine example of how personal family stories and childhood memories become political when they are articulated in such a way that readers can't help but be affected… Quan articulates sentiments that we would all do… >>

Xtra West

Quan writes with an enticing style whose conversational simplicity blossoms smoothly into intricate, evocative imagery; the result is poetry both musical and highly visual. >>

Lambda Book Report

Quan's book, Bowling Pin Fire, has poems about falling in love with Joni Mitchell and falling in love to Joni Mitchell, as well as poems about experiencing ketamine and ecstasy. As the blurb on the back coer notes, many of… >>

— Quentin Mills-Fenn Uptown Magazine

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