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Chinatown Diptych: Two Poems by Jenny Xie

Who’s keeping count of what’s given against what’s stolen? / There’s nothing I can’t trace back to my coarse immigrant blood.

By Jenny Xie
Poetry | Jenny Xie, Poetry Tuesday, poetry
October 2, 2018

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chinatown Diptych

 

I.

The face of Chinatown returns its color,
plucked from July’s industrial steamer.

Dry the cup!
So we do.

Four noodle shops on East Broadway release their belches collectively.
They breed in me a hankering for family life.

Here, there’s no logic to melons and spring onions exchanging hands.
No rhythm to men’s briefs clothes-pinned to the fire escape.

Retirees beneath the Manhattan Bridge leak hearsay.

The woman in Apartment #18 on Bayard washes her feet in pot of boiled
water each evening before bedtime. But every handful of weeks she lapses.

I lean into the throat of summer.

Perched above these streets with whom I share verbs and adjectives.

 

II.

Faces knotted, bangs softened with grease.
The East River pulls along a thread of sun.

While Sunday slides in. Again, in those plain trousers.

How the heat is driven off course.
How one can make out the clarified vowels of bridges.

Who’s keeping count of what’s given against what’s stolen?

There’s nothing I can’t trace back to my coarse immigrant blood.

Uncles tipple wine on the streets of Mott and Bayard.
Night shifts meet day shifts in passing.

Sweat seasons the body that labors.

And in each noodle shop, bowls dusted with salt.

 

 

Zazen

 

Sour tobacco, tofu bowl, bright.
Planks of hollyhock in Anhui,
the way I don’t know could open
months later like a hive.
Hard tide of shame that I thought
had dried out years ago.
Love’s barks grow watery, faint.
I walk the edge of an honest life.
The lash of carnal thoughts, followed
by the thin whip of banal guilt.
Seed of an itch on the left foot sole.
Hot yellow lights of cities
where I once pressed, over and over,
up against alternative lives.

Now, I sit. Above a deep ground.
The mind fetches the chatter.

And so on, and so forth.

 


 

“Chinatown Diptych” and “Zazen” from Eye Level. Copyright © 2018 by Jenny Xie. Used with the permission of Graywolf
Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.