Chen Chen


I love what queerness can do to lineage—the interruptions, the complications. The severances, sometimes. The detours, often. The queering. Literary lineage is a pretty queer thing already, I believe—to insist on connections with dead people you’ve never known, with strangers you might never meet, except on the page. Word-based kinship is an absurd leap and yet it is one of the primary kinships that sustains me. To say, for example, C.P. Cavafy is my family seems doubly queer: he wrote constantly, wrenchingly of gay male desire, and I have only met him through his words—translated words, at that. So perhaps this relation is further queered.

What is it about distance (distant relations, distant relationality) and a deep longing for/into a future that feels queer to me? I think of the ending of Cavafy’s poem “Hidden Things” (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard): “Later, in a more perfect society, / someone else made just like me / is certain to appear and act freely.” How this ending devastates me every time, not just because I imagine Cavafy, a century ago, struggling, but also because I see myself and others “made just like me,” continuing to struggle. The hiding and the attempts to “act freely.” The projecting onto straight figures and characters because we still don’t find ourselves there. Here. The projecting into a future where more can appear, more actions can be free. I think of how resourceful queer people have to be, creating our own linkages across time, across and underneath canons, traditions.

At the same, queer time, I think of what I inherit from those writing alongside me, now—especially those who identify as queer and Asian American. To mention just one: I learn and learn from Joseph O. Legaspi, whose new book Threshold is so bodily and sensual that I actually experienced moments of “Oh, should I be reading this?” while reading it. And I thought I was past the point of feeling like something was too physically honest and close. Nope. Legaspi’s work asks you to lean in, then hands you a moose scrotum to examine. In “Am I Not?” a boy follows other boys “up a tree / for fruit-picking” and slows his pace in order to “marvel at the twin jellyfish / of their underwearless shorts bobbing heavenward.” I am reminded of the wet, marvelous fact: I have a body. I am a body. The gratitude I feel for Legaspi’s poetry is a feeling of lineage, and I cherish being able to say—in person—to this fellow queer Asian American poet, Thank you.

Of course, “Asian American” is or can also be a set of lineages and kinships that doesn’t follow the familial in the usual, biological sense. Perhaps what I am most drawn to is the act, the creative act of finding new family. I hope to keep finding, and asking, Hey, how much do you really know about moose?


The School of Logic


I love you your Cheez-It-
stained mouth. I love you
your legs, two furry examples
of eternity. I love you your love
of instruction manuals, original
packaging, the step-by-Don’t
throw it out, don’t you want to know
how it works? I love you your logic,
your Try it. Your reaching
for my hand again
in the South Plains Mall, Lubbock.
Your flirty eyes in this A/C oasis
of mostly shoe stores.
I don’t love my refusing
to reach back.
My logic of what if they spit, what if
fists. How I see
every look. & think
we’re too much love,
even like, trying on shoes
side by side.
How I can try on these clearly
gay sneakers, yet still leave
A Buffer
between where I sit
& you. How I’ve read
& never thrown out these instructions,
their love
for telling me, Under there, under
that under, that’s where your family
can see you.
But how I love you
your seeing. Your grinning
Hey. Your soft Come on,
hold my hand as we pass
the kiosk of aggressive
T-shirt peddlers, the squawking
crew of college boys.
Your It’s alright.
Your I’m here. Your
Fuck it & quick grip & before I
know it. Your logic
more beautiful than mine.


The School of Joy / Letter to Michelle Lin


after Pablo Neruda
in memory of Tanya Jones


Tonight I can write
the smallest lines.

Write, for example,

summer was hard.
A long blanket

& every room

a dreamless
me. You wrote

that I write with joy.

When really, it’s toward,
walking to

the school of

try again.
Tonight I can write

to you. & through

those last words
with my student,

my peppy Thanks!

in reply to her Hope
you have a great time in L.A.!

Remember L.A.?

Spring & every tree
sleepless. We read together

in Chinatown, in an old

storefront with a new name:
the Poetic Research Bureau,

as if we were detectives,

when it was joy catching
us. Easy, sweet mystery

of night. & it was

my birthday. You made sure
the song was loud,

the plumpest cake pop

in my hand. Then
the same week, this news.

I read it in the too-small room

of my phone: my student, her
car, the drunk driver, a Texas

night, her name, my student still showing up

as “withdrawn”
on my class roster

a month, two months

after. After L.A., after I stood
in front of my class

& said, Something terrible

& Let’s remember
& Tanya was

& the hard,

stupid mystery
of the past tense.

Tonight I can write to you

about her. What I didn’t say
because I couldn’t think

of a more joyless word

than “withdrawn.”
& how I wrote Thanks

to the quickly kind,

automatically Sorry for.
How I think Just a student

when I tremble, stepping

back into a classroom,
trying just to write

Welcome again, in chalk,

the smallest song.