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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 PhD student at Texas Tech University and lives in Rochester, New York. 

Kafka’s Axe & Michael’s Vest

                                 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. 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).

by this poet

poem

                                  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.

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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

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The sky tonight, so without aliens. The woods, very lacking
in witches. But the people, as usual, replete

with people. & so you, with your headset, sit
in the home office across the hall, stuck in a hell

of strangers crying, computers dying, the new
father’s dropped-in-toilet baby