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Jennifer Chang
At the stables, each stall was labeled with a name.
 
Biscuit stood aloof—I faced always, invariably, his clockwork tail.
 
Crab knew the salt lick too well.
 
Trapezoid mastered stillness: a midnight mare, she was sternest and tallest, her chest stretched against the edges of her stall.
 
I was not afraid of Never, the chestnut gelding, so rode his iron haunches as far as Panther Gap.
 
Never and I lived in Virginia then.
 
We could neither flee or be kept.
 
Seldom did I reach the little mountain without him, the easy crests making valleys of indifferent grasses.
 
What was that low sound I heard, alone with Never?
 
A lone horse, a lodestar, a habit of fear.
 
We think of a horse less as the history of one man and his sorrows than as the history of a whole evil time.
 
I fed him odd lettuce, abundant bitterness.
 
Who wore the bit and harness, who was the ready steed.
 
Or: I think there be six Nevers in the field.
 
He took the carrot, words by own reckoning, an account of creeks and oyster catchers.
 
I named my account “Notes on the State of Virginia.”
 
It was bred for show and not to race.
 
Never, I cried, Never.
 
Were I more horse than rider, I would better understand the beast I am.
 
Our hoof-house rested at the foot of the mountain, on which rested another house more brazen than statuary.
 
Let it be known: I first mistook gelding for gilding.
 
I am the fool that has faith in Never.
 
Somewhere, a gold door burdened with apology refuses all mint from the yard.

 

From Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.

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Jennifer Chang

                        on my birthday

I want a future
making hammocks
out of figs and accidents.
Or a future quieter
than snow. The leopards
stake out the backyard
and will flee at noon.
My terror is not secret,
but necessary,
as the wild must be,
as Sandhill cranes must
thread the meadow
yet again. Thus, autumn
cautions the cold
and the wild never want
to be wild. So what
to do about the thrum
of my thinking, the dangerous
pawing at the door?
Yesterday has no harmony
with today. I bought
a wool blanket, now shredded
in the yard. I abided by
dwelling, thought nothing
of now. And now?
I’m leopard and crane,
all’s fled.

Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 12, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

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Jennifer Chang

She’s in the desert
releasing the ashes of her father,
the ashes of her child,
or the ashes of the world. She is not

what she observes. The rare spinystar.
It does not belong to her. Bright needle threading
a cloud through the sky. There’s sun enough,
there’s afterlife. Her own body, a pillar of ash.
I fall to pieces, she says. Faithless

nimbus, faithless thought. In my life,
I have lost two men. One by death,
inevitable. One

by error: a waste. He wept
from a northern state,
hunger too cold
for human knowledge.

Once I was a woman with nothing to say. 

Never did I say ash to ash.
Never has the desert woken me up.
I said
who releases whom?

Inevitably, all have known
what the desert knows. No one
will count the lupine when I’m gone.

No one looks to the sun
for meaning. For meat
I’ve done so much less.

Cattle in the far basin, sagebrush, sage. 

I live in the city where I loved that man.
The ash of him, the self’s argument.

Now and then, I think of his weeping,
how my body betrays me:
I am not done with releasing. 
 

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

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Jennifer Chang
It was inside, gathering heat in her blood, slowly killing her.
 
No one said a word.
 
And this grew her fury further, grieved her immeasurably.
 
What did it look like.
 
A knot, or a slag of granite.
 
I imagined another brother, unborn for he was only a knot.
 
How my granite brother would never leave her.
 
I grew up in her abject sadness, which soon became our speaking.
 
And then I left.
 
Smaller, smaller, he was her favorite.
 
Jays nag the first light.
 
And now I am awake before dawn hoping today is a day when I won’t have to say anything.
 
And then I.
 
To me, it was unintelligible.
 
I could see through her skin, see my brother not growing inside her.
 
Would he ever come outside.
 
The raging jays, the squawking catastrophe.
 
I wanted to know.
 
What is the difference between a son and a daughter,  I wanted to know.
 
That is private.
 
That was her answer.
 

From Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.

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Jennifer Chang

The daffodils can go fuck themselves.
I’m tired of their crowds, yellow rantings
about the spastic sun that shines and shines
and shines. How are they any different

from me?  I, too, have a big messy head
on a fragile stalk.  I spin with the wind.
I flower and don’t apologize. There’s nothing
funny about good weather. Oh, spring again,

the critics nod. They know the old joy,
that wakeful quotidian, the dark plot
of future growing things, each one
labeled Narcissus nobilis or Jennifer Chang.

If I died falling from a helicopter, then
this would be an important poem. Then
the ex-boyfriends would swim to shore
declaiming their knowledge of my bulbous

youth. O, Flower, one said, why aren’t you
meat? But I won’t be another bashful shank.
The tulips have their nervous joie-de-vivre,
the lilacs their taunt. Fractious petals, stop

interrupting me with your boring beauty.
All the boys are in the field gnawing raw
bones of ambition and calling it ardor. Who
the hell are they? This is a poem about war.

Copyright © 2012 by Jennifer Chang. Previously published in The Nation and Best American Poetry. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

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Jennifer Chang
It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked 
for bacon in my sandwich, and then 

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar: 

I did not use a knife. I lied 
about what he did to my faith 
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake. 
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom 
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk. 
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke, 
the lifeguard perilously close to diving. 
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick. 

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake. 
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion 

I'll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake, 
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem? 
It means today 
I'm correcting my mistakes.

It means I don't want to be lonely.

Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of the author.

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Jennifer Chang
One winter I lived north, alone
and effortless, dreaming myself
into the past. Perhaps, I thought,
words could replenish privacy.
Outside, a red bicycle froze
into form, made the world falser
in its white austerity. So much
happens after harvest: the moon
performing novelty: slaughter,
snow. One hour the same
as the next, I held my hands
or held the snow. I was like sculpture,
forgetting or, perhaps, remembering
everything. Red wings in the snow,
red thoughts ablaze in the war
I was having with myself again.
Everything I hate about the world
I hate about myself, even now
writing as if this were a law
of nature. Say there were deer
fleet in the snow, walking out
the cold, and more gingkoes
bare in the beggar’s grove. Say
I was not the only one who saw
or heard the trees, their diffidence
greater than my noise. Perhaps
the future is a tiny flame
I’ll nick from a candle. First, I’m burning.
Then, numb. Why must every winter
grow colder, and more sure?
 

From Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.