Issue > Poetry
Chen Chen

Chen Chen

Chen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the Thom Gunn Award, among other honors. He has received a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Kundiman and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at Brandeis University as the Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence.

from "holiday"

god wants to eat fish,
a whole steamed fish with the smallest bones—
god, god says, is not afraid of bones.

the ghosts are waiting for december
to end, for the calendar on the kitchen wall to be done,
just done, like a good steak. the ghosts want
to lick the months, the days, each glossy

morsel of time. some of them sigh, ask, why
keep waiting? & those who know
respond, the taste,
it only tastes right when you have the holy

fat of the whole year.

the mother has planned. she has stood
at the calendar & penned in every dentist, hair, doctor,
hair appointment, every can't-miss work
party, the truly can't-miss kam man supermarket trips,
the too-brief breaks, birthdays, the return
dates for books, return trips of sons.

the calendar—from kam man with the familiar red
& gold, goldeny reds. & this time, pigs,
for the year of the pig, dancing & sowing
harmony in an impressive range of outfits.

the planning—english, chinese, whichever words
come first. but all printed. penned,
not penciled. cursive is for correspondence,
& pencil, actually she never uses pencil.

with her calendars she inks every word
slowly. she composes every stroke or letter
as though considering how best
to invent it, then inventing it. & she does
it so well, what weather, god,
or son would contradict her plans? who could?

the junk drawer keeps sliding out,
like a ravenous tongue, an always
growing vocabulary of pens, buttons,

sticky notes, somehow sticky receipts.  
& in the middle of it all, one long,
introverted black hair who is overwhelmed.

god shouts, more bones, the flavor
is in the bones, in the skulls culled from the sea—

the ghosts shout, more days, more salt
& tang days, more ferociously sweet nights, however brief—

the mother shouts, no more buttons
in this drawer, no more shirt buttons, coat buttons, buttons
from abroad, buttons from our other country, buttons
previously thought only a myth,
we have enough—

the junk drawer shouts, no, never enough
of any button—


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