Two Poems by Chen Chen

The School of Morning & Letters

Assigned to flurries
of dust, assigned to the dead
middle of winter in West Texas,

assigned to give assignments
in a building called English,
I walk to campus, rubbing flecks

of night from my eyes.
On my phone, the morning
headlines spell crisis,

the morning is picture
after picture of the coiffed like
cotton candy doom,

the chalky delirious face
of our leader, endorsed
by the KKK.

Assigned him, assigned
this season of k’s & hard c’s,
I look up & see the dark

birds called grackle,
congregating near English.
I catch, am caught in the winged

weather above food court & student
union. I listen to the grackle
orchestra of unrelenting

shriek. I study the blur
of their long-tailed swerving, their
bodies like comets, frenzied

commas, yet unable, finally,
to mark, to contain
the wide blue Texas sky.

Still, they try. Every beak
& claw, every uncalm feather
tries, as if the sky

were the only fact left,
as if the grackles
have been told to memorize it,

as if someone, someday,
will ask them to
speak it, this long blue sentence.


Your emergency contact has experienced an emergency.

The Texas sun shines hard on everything like a detective.

You hide out, eating soup from microwavable cans.

Sometimes, you’re studying abroad & ask the kitchen table where to find the closest subway station.

Sometimes, the kitchen table replies, By the family of cockroaches in the bathroom.

Other times, Language is the last thing you should learn more of.

The cockroach family nods.

The Texas sky changes color like a vast PowerPoint very proud of itself.

You feel like a cockroach except you know how to use the microwave.

Sometimes, every living thing just sounds like: Please.

Other times, Please don’t. Please no.

The mother cockroach says, In the event of a sudden loss of cabin meaning, back-up meanings will drop from the overhead compartment.

The Texas moon shines like a misplaced clue.

Please grab hold of a meaning & pull it to your face.

Your kitchen table shines back, an unsolvable station.

Please hold, pull close.

In a sudden cabin of loss, you are a sound you haven’t yet learned.

These poems are published in The Lifted Brow #36. You can purchase a copy here.

Chen Chen's debut, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, was longlisted for the National Book Award in Poetry.