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Chen Chen

                                  for Monica Sok

These bridges are a feat of engineering. These pork & chive dumplings
            we bought together, before hopping on a train
& crossing bridges, are a feat of engineering. Talking to you, crossing bridges
            in trains, eating pork & chive dumplings in your bright boxcar
of a kitchen in Brooklyn, is an engineer’s dream-feat
            of astonishment. Tonight I cannot believe
the skyline because the skyline believes in me, forgives me my drooling
            astonishment over it & over the fact that this happens,
this night, every night, its belief, glittering mad & megawatt like the dreams
            of parents. By the way, is this soy sauce
reduced sodium? Do you know? Do we care? High, unabashed sodium intake!
            Unabashed exclamation points! New York is an exclamation
I take, making my escape, away from the quiet snowy commas of Upstate
            & the mess of questions marking my Bostonian past.
In New York we read Darwish, we write broken sonnets finally forgiving
            the Broken English of Our Mothers, we eat
pork & chive dumplings, & I know, it’s such a 90s fantasy
            of multiculturalism that I am
rehashing, bust still, in New York I feel I can tell you how my mother & I
            used to make dumplings together, like a scene
out of The Joy Luck Club. The small kitchen, the small bowl of water
            between us. How we dipped index finger, thumb.
Sealed each dumpling like tucking in a secret, goodnight.
            The meat of a memory. A feat of engineering.
A dream of mother & son. Interrupted by the father, my father
            who made my mother get on a plane, a theory,
years of nowhere across American No’s, a degree that proved useless.
            Proved he was the father. I try to build a bridge
to my parents but only reach my mother & it’s a bridge she’s about to
            jump off of. I run to her, she jumps, she’s
swimming, saying, Finally I’ve learned—all this time, trying to get from one useless
            chunk of land to another, when I should’ve stayed
in the water. & we’re drinking tap water in your bright Brooklyn kitchen.
            I don’t know what to tell you. I thought I could
tell this story, give it a way out of itself. Even here, in my fabulous
            Tony-winning monologue of a New York, I’m struggling to get
to the Joy, the Luck. I tell you my mother still
            boils the water, though she knows she doesn’t have to anymore.
Her special kettle boils in no time, is a feat of engineering.
            She could boil my father in it
& he’d come out a better person, in beautiful shoes.
            She could boil the Atlantic, the Pacific, every idyllic
American pond with its swans. She would.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

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Chen Chen

from your grandmother’s coat. You worry with your thumb the stranger’s page. Aging spine of the black sky, night-burps of the sleeping computer. Don’t listen to the judgment of your scraped knees. Night anchors in your belly button, your pubic hair. Stars snore safely, for years. Your smile in the early dark is a paraphrase of Mars. Your smile in the deep dark is an anagram of Jupiter. My worst simile is that I’m fancy like a piece of salami wearing a tuxedo. Waiting with a cone of gelato. Your smile in the dreaming dark is an umbrella for all the going, gone, & yet to come. Orioles come for the oranges you’ve placed in the arms of the architect. Which birds will you pull into orbit tomorrow? You try to sew the night onto your own coat, but it won’t stay. Too much memory weather, werewolf migration. You itch for the window’s shore. You row, the growing light rearranging your voice, the rain your lunatic photographer.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

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Chen Chen

                                 for Michael Burkard

Still winter. Snowing, still. Can it even be called action, this patience
in the form of gravity overdressed in gray?

Days like this, the right silence can be an action, an axe,
right through the frozen sea, as Kafka calls for. A necessary smashing,
opening. Though silence can also be a shattering, closing.

Think of peace & how the Buddhists say it is found through silence.
Think of silence & how Audre Lorde says it will not protect you.

Think of silence as a violence, when silence means being made
a frozen sea. Think of speaking as a violence, when speaking is a house
that dresses your life in the tidiest wallpaper. It makes your grief

sit down, this house. It makes you chairs when you need
justice. It keeps your rage room temperature. I’ve been thinking

about how the world is actually unbearable.
About all those moments of silence we’re supposed to take.
Each year, more moments, less life, & perhaps

the most monastic of monks are right to take vows
of silence that last a decade.

Though someone else (probably French) says our speaking
was never ours; our thoughts & selves housed
by history, rooms we did not choose, but must live in.

Think of Paul Celan, living
in the bone-rooms of German. Living, singing.

What does it mean, to sing in the language of those
who have killed your mother,
would kill her again? Does meaning shatter, leaving

behind the barest moan? This English, I bear it, a master’s
axe, yet so is every tongue—red with singing & killing.

Are we even built for peace? I think of breath & my teacher,
Michael, one of the least masterly, most peaceful people I know,
& Kafka’s number one fan. I think of the puffy blue vest Michael wears

when his breaths turn white. Even when I’m doing my best
think axes & walls, brave monks & unbearable houses,

the thought of Michael in his bit-too-big deep blue vest
leaks in. & I don’t think I will ever stop trying to sneak
into casual conversation the word “ululation.” If only all language

could be ululation in blue vests. If silence could always be
as quiet as Michael, sitting with his coffee & his book, rereading. 

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

from When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
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Chen Chen

To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last

inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice

for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be

no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China

for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go

fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say

their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,

can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—

a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.

To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming

their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D

& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment

with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—

blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.

To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.

From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. Copyright © 2016 by Chen Chen. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.