Chen Chen

How I Became Sagacious

The day the window grew till it no longer fit the house
        was the night I decided to leave.
I carried in my snake mouth a boxful
        of carnal autobiographies.
I went in search of a face without theory.
        The window went on to sing a throb of deer
melody. The shape, the day of my belly sobbed
        with the outline of a deer.
The clouds were a mouth-shaped poison,
        & ready. I saw violence in anything
with a face. I wished for a place big enough for grief,
        & all I got was more grief, plus People magazine.
There were some inside things I was going to make
        outside things, just for one person in a godless
living room, full of passé plants. Now what?
        So blah & bewildered, my hands
have turned out to be no bee,
        all bumble, unable to tell the difference
between the floor & the ground. They feel dirt,
        but it feels like something they made.


In This Economy

People person seeks paid internship in liking you as a friend,
        respecting you as a coworker. Serial monogamist
seeks change of pace in slutting it up for the summer.
        Animal lover seeks entry level position, teaching guinea pigs
how to swim. Solitude lover seeks more of the same.
        I want to be as beautiful as carrot cake. As three firefighters
shoveling out a fire hydrant after the snowstorm.
        As the whole city after storm.
I am knowledgeable in advanced aftermath. I am proficient
        in scowling. Often I am a counterculture pistachio
on casual Friday. In one pocket, chapstick. In the other, racist comments
        from people who claim to be postracial. Or kind.
If you’d like I can alphabetize all my regrets but I’ll have to start from H.
        I like a good multipurpose room. Also multipurpose flour.
I excel at pouring tea into the moon. A scary amount. I am too much
        statuary in not enough city. I am a collection of collectors.
It’s pretty okay. One of my collectors is collecting rust from radiators.
        & belief from Quakers. I’ve befriended every shade of evening
& they cannot recommend me highly enough. I hold degrees in
        both my hands. In my mouth. My sole weakness is being 
the chairperson of my own childhood. Beloved president of ages 3
        through 7. My weakness is hoarding phrases I’ve
overheard / didn’t want to read. Now! even softer & more absorbent!
        Our finest, the supermarket brand says, like from one family
to another. I am a family of collectors. My father collects 
        newspapers. Like they’re his own memories. But worse:
they get in the way of other people’s lives in addition to his own.
        We trip over stacks of them in the living room. Groan
when he quotes from them, all housing markets & cloud formations.
        Car prices are a specialty he whips out for dinner guests.
My weakness is actually listening. Earnestly.
        My mother collects, no, saves stamps. Like they’re her own
children. But better: she can store them in a book, take them out when
        she wants. Love them like they’ve just been born. & the labor,
a breeze: no drugs, no doctor, just a pair of scissors, a bucket,
        warm water. All the wonderment of birth in under 20 minutes.
The mother doesn’t even have to be physically present. She can go check
        on her human kids while the water coaxes, releases
the stamps from the remaining blocks of envelope. She returns
        & the bucket is a small aquarium of state birds & flowers,
dead presidents & once popular singers.
        My weakness is anything paper & anything miniature.
My parents’ friend’s weakness is nautical paintings & antique clocks.
        My boyfriend’s stepfather’s weakness is vintage farm equipment
& antique clocks. I want them to meet. Perhaps I could be
        a liaison. Or something else French. In this economy
of acute magpie syndrome. Where “just a hobby” is the strongest
        industry. & we work overtime at our reverie.
My weakness is loving this economy.
        I want them to meet but I only see my parents’ friend
at Thanksgiving. We’ll be in the middle of turkey & mapo tofu
        when all the old weird clocks go off. No, not all.
Some go off on time at 6:00. Others at 6:01. & the last, rebellious group,
        6:03. At first I think this is a deliberate unsynchronized
idiosyncrasy. But at the next Thanksgiving, when this occurs
        again, our host exclaims in his most
New England Mandarin, Oh dear. I thought
        I’d fixed them. Sorry about that. Our clocks, he sighs,
as though they belong to everyone at the table, everyone.


Chen Chen

Chen Chen is the author of the chapbook Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015). A Kundiman Fellow, his poems have appeared/are forthcoming in Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, Narrative, [PANK], The Best American Poetry 2015, among others. He is the winner of the Matt Clark Award from New Delta Review, and the Joyce Carol Oates Award, selected by Ishion Hutchinson. He recently received his MFA from Syracuse University and is now a PhD candidate in English & Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. Visit him at