Eye Level

Jenny Xie

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 alternate lives.

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

And so on, and so forth.

Pensive and searching, Eye Level is a meditative collection, though not always as straightforwardly as in the poem above. Jenny Xie writes with a practiced awareness of the space around her; she maintains a calming rhythm in her writing and a particular visual focus implied by both the title and by the book’s epigraph, quoted from the Spanish poet Antonio Machad: “The eye you see is not / an eye because you see it; / it is an eye because it sees you.


Never mind the distances traveled, the companion

she made of herself. The threadbare twenties not

to be underestimated. A wild depression that ripped

from January into April. And still she sprouts an appetite.

Insisting on edges and cores, where there were none.

Relationships annealed through shared ambivalences.

Pages that steadied her. Books that prowled her

until the hard daybreak, and for months after.

Separating new vows from the old, like laundry whites.

Small losses jammed together to as to gather mass.

Stored generations of filtered quietude.

And some stubbornness. Tangles along the way

the comb-teeth of the mind had to bite through, but for what.

She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level,

but they were lower, they were changing all the time.