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The Letter Q: Ching-In Chen

Written by

Ching-In Chen
Contributor Page

Year

2014

The Letter Q (Scholastic, 2012) is a collection of letters written by queer writers to their younger selves, making imaginative journeys into their pasts, and addressing the often difficult coming-of-age experiences of LGBTQ individuals. Inspired by its strength, bravery, and heart, Poets.org asked several poets to respond with their own letters to their younger selves.


[A zuihitsu]

1. On a day when Zhen Bo Liu, a Chinese immigrant delivery driver is shot in the face, the $48 worth of food he had delivered eaten after the killing, my friend makes me miso soup with baby bok choy she has grown herself. She asks me, did you ever think about where you would live in a city if you were homeless. In a boxcar. And you. — Under a bridge. Did you ever think about where you would hide if someone raided your house? No. — In the ceiling of my closet. What I would do if I got sent to jail?

2. An e-mail arrives from another queer poet, hurting, counting, asking, reaching. Mollie Olgin, Mary Kristene Chapa, Brandy Martell, Cece McDonald and who and who and who. I don't even know all the names.

3. Yes, you, entering from the South. The North. East by association. West. I am writing you, the person I will become, still becoming. Their life, this week, consists of a meeting in an underground hot tub collective, a meeting in a school cafe, a meeting in a stuffy office. I want to write you, back there on the road alone, some untruth, some myth, but that road is still there, hemmed in by mountains. You can't filter out that voice in your head.

3. This week was the 20th anniversary of Vincent Chin's death, a Chinese American man mistaken for Japanese in Detroit, a city where you will venture in a few days. A man whose head was beaten in with a baseball hat by two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, angry about Japanese competition in the auto industry. You slicked back your 16-year-old hair, suited up for mock trial. The first time your body, groomed as a girl, into a boy. Pretending to be a white boy, the one holding the bat, not the one gone. You cried when you watched the other man's story (the one gone), not the one you are / can never be. You try to win on the stand. You know the story too well. You omit details, weave in other ones. Little fibs to pull the strings. Over ten years later, you have written four poems circling around this man, watched two documentaries, read one book. Who is this man? I have no idea — I will never meet him.

4. But I want to meet you. Not always in self-defense, in disaster. You meet me where it is possible. You smile and offer a hug. And I say yes, come with me down the road. And you do, you meet me where it is possible.

collected in

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Elizabeth Bishop and
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The Letter Q (Scholastic, 2012) is a collection of letters written by...