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An Unlonely Land: Two Poems by Chen Chen

When did I first realize my parents were not infinite? / That I could see the end of them? Past their capes & catchphrases?

By Chen Chen

For this week’s Poetry Tuesday, we bring you “Chapter VIII” and “The Cat Who Wore Corn Pants” by Chen Chen. In these two poems, the speaker navigates spaces in which he is vulnerable and silenced. Yet, he is “unlonely” because he recognizes the secrets in these “lands”; one knows best a place in which he or she is made vulnerable. He still loves and sings in those spaces; he expands them with an astute eye that catches each nook of beauty and light.

—Emily Yoon

Chapter VIII

Autumn was an argument about hair & how much of it.
Too much not enough just right but just for now & then it was winter.
The licorice of every season was rather inappropriate.
Well ok how about this. & you put on more of my deodorant.
What can one do but put on more deodorant?
Paris, lopsided, was still Paris. A congregation, a conflagration.
A smiling conundrum in the form of a ladder it takes years
to climb down. In our last (ever) scrabble game, you changed my “whore”
into “whored.” I tried to ask my parents to leave the room,
but not my life. It was very hard. Because the room was the size
of my life. Because my life was small. & wanted to eat candy corn
instead of confrontation. Raising one’s voice in a small space
felt at once godlike & childish. You agreed with me
out of a practical concern. & I loved you for it. We were two
horses in search of the least abandoned constellation.
But the night sky was overtaken by the beatitude of the ultimate horse.
Also Ben had upset Wes with his choice of neckties but then
the author decided it would all be better in second person actually.
When did I first realize my parents were not infinite?
That I could see the end of them? Past their capes & catchphrases?
One day in fourth grade my teacher said, You’re lucky to be
so young. You’ll heal up from that bicycle accident in no time. No scars.

No time. No scars. Sing it with me. Loud as Reykjavik summer.
Easy as my etch a sketch when I made a ghastly mistake.
Except no. No one exists outside of time. Outside of getting
marked by it. No matter how wonky your perception of it.
I will try my best not to mistake you for my parents I mean my problems
with my parents I mean me. Believe with me another
melody. That the room, the life could go by a different light
& we could say hello. Meaning gentleness with all our might.

The Cat Who Wore Corn Pants

Once there lived a cat who wore corn pants.
Which he was very famous for inventing. In my children’s book
I have yet to write. For months I just have the title & the following
bits of dialogue: I promise you only my best smithereens on Bastille Day.
Is it Bastille Day already? How can one know for sure?

Yesterday was Pride. Was a long commercial for a music video
for Doritos. So much sweaty glitter that turned into litter. Dorito
dust. Who had to stick around later, & clean? The straight folks
who came for the party, the easy breezy activism? Or the queer folks
in suit & tie & tan, flexing their new success so like

someone else’s old? In the crowded June street, my friend & I
held onto the giveaway paper fans promoting love & Lays
Potato Chips, until we could find a place to recycle.
As if that made us better. Admittedly, one float I liked
was the National Gay Pilots Association’s—they had

a plump mini airplane that looked like it could talk,
that deserved a starring role in someone-more-talented’s
children’s book. Today I am in a train station
& the information kiosk is a beauty. Someone fabulously
desperate replaced half of the tourism brochures with pictures

of their missing turtle. Now I feel ready to continue my
children’s book. To make a brandless mess. A trouble sponsored by
inventor cats. Runaway turtles. Think about the children, the homophobes
& bougie homos & those who can’t think of anything else to say, say.
But I am thinking about the children. Who would like cats.

But live in cramped apartments that don’t permit. Who like corn,
fresh corn bathed in butter, in summer. But can’t always afford.
Liking corn so much you want to wear it. & be beautiful.
But are told, Quiet. To survive. As I was told, & did, while reading
a library book about some divine creature. Some debonair

tiger, jetpacking across a vast & finally unlonely land.

for Sophia