One Year Later: Her Answer
In memory of Ruthann Johnson
& she is
& he keeps thinking of things to ask her
then remembering he can’t, & I could
ask, in a beautiful
poem sort of way, what was the creature she always wanted
to growl as, the candy she always hoped
to create? But I want him to be able to pick up the phone, to call
his mom with all his beautifully
boring questions—yeah, it’s the fridge again, what
should I do? What should I check first?
Should I take everything
out? Just put it on the floor? Are you home,
are you watching Frasier?
But the last question I can remember, the one I keep remembering
her answer to
was in the hospital. & I can’t stop hearing, seeing
her voice, her face in the hospital,
when the social worker came, asked if everyone in the room
was family—when his mother, from her bed, looked
right at me, said, Yes.
In the World’s Italianest Restaurant
In memory of Justin Chin, 1969-2015
OK but why aren’t more people talking about the fact—the undeniably
indisputable fact—that you were hot?
A simple Google image search confirms this. My erogenous zones
affirm this. You with your
tattooed arms, which clearly you knew were A Key Feature, yes I’m talking
about all those photos
in a plain T-shirt, polo, tank top. You with your goatee & mustache,
the stache I’m trying
these days to emulate. Did you ever go full-on caterpillar with that?
Did it work—meaning,
was it hot? These are the questions I need to ask you. If only
we’d met. I wish we could meet,
this bright blue afternoon, in the boba tea shop down the street, the spot
I always ask folks to come to,
even from the afterlife, or what must be the bluest of oblivions.
But if you’re feeling
fancy, let’s go to that Pizza Hut, the one my aunt took me to once, in Xiamen,
& let me tell you—
stunning. Like a seriously Italian Italian fine dining establishment.
I’d order us a large
pepperoni pizza, then between bites tell you about the white guy on Facebook
who called me an ‘identitalian clown’
for posting ‘nonstop’ about race. I’d write a poem called ‘White Guys on Facebook’
but I’d rather not further exhaust
my exhaustion. How tired were you? Growing up?
In those last years?
Some days I wonder if I’ll make it to your age.
Scrolling down the same image search, the cover of my first book
from an article about Asian American poets. Gutted
is highlighted, your
last book of poems. I wish I could’ve sent you my first. & told you
what it felt like to find yours,
Bite Hard, in a college library. The way I hid it
between two more
innocent-looking books I’ve long since forgotten. This habit I began
in high school—sneaking
into my backpack, then my room, all the queer
lit, every bit of this
aliveness I could find. The fact—the fact I’d love to dispute, deny,
but can’t—that it took
until college to find books & writers both queer & Asian.
How I’m still shedding
the unaliveness, the lie that queer & Asian must mean un- & never-
innocent, that to live
like you is to choose pain & sorrow
Have you heard about this new virus? That a body like yours, like mine
is once again presumed sick,
preferred dying, pronounced tragic-
ally already dead?
I wish, I need to: send you this poem. Or better: for us to write
together, to compose an acerbic yet ecstatic
epic called ‘Identitalian Clowns’ that recounts every moment of the bright
afternoon we ate pizza, while talking
about how painful this world has made our living—
as well as how hot & mustachioed
we can’t help but continue to make ourselves.
a small book of questions: chapter v
after Bhanu Kapil
How will you live now?
In other words, aren’t both the triumphant & the tragic coming out narratives white constructions, anyway? why do you need to talk to your mother about everything, anyway? does she need to be your best friend? was it failure,
or are you happier to have the space
that opened up?
haven’t you been happier, not speaking with her for almost a year?
would she wish to talk about your relationship, if you were with a woman?
is she just more interesting to write about than your father?
is it that she’s shown more interest in changing? do you believe she’ll get him
or is it not space but distance?
not happiness; relief?
aren’t you forgetting how you used to sit, after school,
at the kitchen table, & tell your mother every last thing from your day, the funny parts, the frustrating, the boys you liked to play Power Rangers with during recess, the boy you let play the Green Ranger, before you had to play Not Liking Boys No Not Like That, before you knew, before she knew, but didn’t she, already?
CHEN CHEN’s second book, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in September 2022 and Bloodaxe Books in October 2022. His debut, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017; Bloodaxe Books, 2019), was long-listed for the National Book Award and won the Thom Gunn Award, among other honors. His work appears in many publications, including Poetry, The Poetry Review, three editions of The Best American Poetry, and The Forward Book of Poetry 2021. He has received two Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and United States Artists. He was the 2018-2022 Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University and currently teaches for the low-residency MFA programs at New England College and Stonecoast.