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About this poet

Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017), which won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was long-listed for the National Book Award. He is a recipient of a 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has a PhD from Texas Tech University, and is the Jacob Ziskind Visiting Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University. He lives in Rochester, New York.

In the City

                                  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.

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.

Chen Chen

Chen Chen

Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017).

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