on my birthday
I want a future
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,
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,
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.