Most of this collection feels playful and cheeky, yet there is a mournful undercurrent, from the poems with some form of “elegy” in their titles, references to the sickness of Chen Chen’s mother and her unrealized expectations of him, and even his consideration of a friend’s comment, “…All you write about / is being gay or Chinese…” A tender book in many ways, but with some humor to keep in buoyant.
Sorrow Song with Optimus Prime
You are an unhappy thing, cursed with legs,
every step carrying the love who left, the love you left,
the job lost, the mountain of low, the mounting lack.
But your legs grow tired of holding it, so you transfer it
to your head. Then your head grows tired, so you delegate it
to your shoulders. Then they are tired & you are tired
& you don’t know what to do but replant it in your legs,
your feet, & walk it to the supermarket.
You try to sell your sickness to the octopus
whose tentacles lie in severed stripes. But he refuses.
You try to freeze your darkness but the industrial fridge
spits it out. You put a pink hat on your gloom
& march it to the toy store where you try giving it away,
giving it back to the latest version of the unattainable
robot from childhood, the truck that transforms, grows
arms that hold laser guns, could hold your grief, you.
But the sorrow is held by your heart now, your own
exquisite machine that seems ﬁnally to contain it.
Then every your most stubborn muscle grows weary, & sends it
whirling through your bloodstream & your blood carries it,
everywhere in your body at once, so there is no more moving.
So you sit, on the ﬂoor of the toy store, like the end
of an avalanche, each rock, tree, & small wish of you
crushed, heaped. & the scream of your total defeat
is the cry that brought the mountain down.