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Chen Chen
Chen Chen

I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 19, 2018.
About this Poem 

“After hearing a poem of mine in which I attempt to reach out to my parents (again), my brilliant friend Muriel Leung suggested that I write a piece demanding my parents meet me where I am, instead. That suggestion made me realize that the kind of relationship I want with my parents is one where they educate themselves and change their homophobic behavior, without me constantly pushing them to. This poem doesn’t depict an ideal situation where the relationship is completely healed; it examines the often slow and frustrating reality, while leaving things open for some surprise.”
—Chen Chen

I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party

In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time 
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay. 

In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend 
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time, 

you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him 

about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be 
enjoyable. Please RSVP. 

They RSVP. They come. 
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend 

the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going? 

I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair  

of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars 
is watching from the outside.  

My boyfriend responds in his chipper way. 
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting, 

isn’t it? My mother smiles her best 
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend 

Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing 
a Little Better Smile. 

Everyone eats soup. 
Then, my mother turns 

to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you 
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like 

this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling 
on the string that makes my cardboard mother 

more motherly, except she is 
not cardboard, she is 

already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting 
for my answer. 

While my father opens up 
a Boston Globe, when the invitation 

clearly stated: No security 
blankets. I’m like the kid 

in Home Alone, except the home 
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone, 

& not the one who needs 
to learn, has to—Remind me 

what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says 
to my mother, as though they have always, easily 

talked. As though no one has told him 
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets 

slasher flick meets psychological 
pit he is now co-starring in. 

Remind me, he says 
to our family. 

Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Chen Chen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 19, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Poetry and the Creative Mind

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.


These Poems

These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
are you ready?

These words
they are stones in the water
running away

These skeletal lines
they are desperate arms for my longing and love.

I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me

whoever you are
whoever I may become.

June Jordan

Always on the Train

Writing poems about writing poems
is like rolling bales of hay in Texas.
Nothing but the horizon to stop you.

But consider the railroad's edge of metal trash;
bird perches, miles of telephone wires.
What is so innocent as grazing cattle?
If you think about it, it turns into words.

Trash is so cheerful; flying up
like grasshoppers in front of the reaper.
The dust devil whirls it aloft; bronze candy wrappers,
squares of clear plastic—windows on a house of air.

Below the weedy edge in last year's mat,
red and silver beer cans.
In bits blown equally everywhere,
the gaiety of flying paper
and the black high flung patterns of flocking birds.
Ruth Stone
Acadia National Park. Courtesy of the National Park Service

Like You

translated by Jack Hirschman

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.

I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.

Como Tú

Yo, como tu,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.

También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.

Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.

Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sange unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

Roque Dalton

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

AASL Best Website for Teaching & Learning

Poetry Is a Destructive Force

That's what misery is,
Nothing to have at heart. 
It is to have or nothing. 

It is a thing to have, 
A lion, an ox in his breast, 
To feel it breathing there.
Corazon, stout dog, 
Young ox, bow-legged bear, 
He tastes its blood, not spit. 

He is like a man 
In the body of a violent beast. 
Its muscles are his own . . .

The lion sleeps in the sun. 
Its nose is on its paws. 
It can kill a man. 
Wallace Stevens
Spring–Summer 2018 issue of American Poets

Lesson Plans for Introducing Poetry

Bring poems into the classroom with these lesson plans, which are especially suited to introducing students to poetry and helping them become engaged and thoughtful readers.