From ‘Notes for an Opening’, by Wendy Xu

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Photo by Stephen Wu. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

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They ask me how deeply do you abide by your imperfect alliances
Well, the trouble with my desire is that I approach it infinitely
I’m waiting on the train
I’m waiting on my paycheck
I’m waiting on my itinerary, my package, my money, my tax return, my status to be overturned, my appeal, the rest of my money, my period, my friends to show up, my rejection letter, my test results
When the doors open I’ll be alone with my thoughts of you
That summer we had found our housing no longer secure
Your housing, and because I consider my love the house inside which I dwell and remake with ease: our housing
The books had been cooked without our knowledge, and to this we took offense
A friend said “you just can’t live a life harmoniously with other people”
You didn’t want to fight anyone so we paid your way out
We waited on the return of our lemon tree, our living basil, confiscated at the border
We imagined that contraband items are eventually “re-homed”
A gray drizzle was then detonating inside of us
Dubbed “disaster relief team” on the side of the truck, dead branches cut down for safety takes all morning
And I felt it, the relief washing over me like weather

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All night after the tribute to her: what is the difference between an empty chair (emphasis: object) and an empty seat?
Which is more possible?
Feeling spiritually related to the dissident’s wife, a parallel vector? A shared point of psychic origin?
When I wake up in the morning my face is already wet with tears
For her and for the dependable chemistry of my dissent, bubbling while I sleep
Or it’s my poor blood
If they tell you she’s free, tell them she’s not free
“and other tragedies,” ongoing dramas we watch unfold from the safety of the audience
Hold your neighbor to the standard of your loved ones

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I debase myself with the day’s coinage
I feed it slowly into the machine
I was trying to write myself a fine monologue back to health
A beautiful dream where you look at me and see me, end of dream
They snuck a handheld into the home of the dissident’s wife and she reads two poems by lamplight as proof of life
“Could I have been a bird or a tree”
If they tell you she’s free, tell them she’s not
I wanted to write about my happiness for you, but my happiness gets in the way
Anxiety is my condition, not from birth, from what comes after
What other paperwork can you ask me for?
One day you’ll have to tell me about the most alone you’ve ever felt
How you adjusted the lighting in the room as a friend would
How you called him your courage
They paid you per garment and per stitch we’d later unknot from your back
I didn’t want to do any of the classroom activities, I wanted to look at the photo of you and Dad taped inside my locker
When I was still small enough to be lifted, held momentarily
But what I really wanted to say was 这是我的故事
I’ve been waiting so long to tell you, 这是我的爱

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The lady of the hour wishes she could be her own husband
Practically unenviable, practically DESTROYED
I had felt activated after hearing the story of the four deaths of the greedy husbands
A literal curse upon men without imaginations
Do you imagine that after you die, your loved ones will gather swiftly in your memory’s honor?
How will they cast you in their tributes, their suspension of the dream of you?
Did you exceed their expectations for your dress, your walk, your humility, your language acquisition skills?
Did you ruin them entirely with your genius?

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The grasses, trees, flowers, rivers, stones, mountains
The pale orange crystal pulled from the rock face
The wayward clots of white and lavender cloud
The luminescent jellyfish, the inlet crisscrossed by birds
The silver sheen of water, children marking it with fists
I show you my naturalism with a heavy sorrow, the crisis of distance and the exile of words
A single external point towards which I project my love for you
Clouds unbound by municipal borders, shelter you tender heartedly
I race my students to class whereby if I arrive first, I’m allowed to keep my post
I feel my sentences tightening and it’s with great effort that I speak with trees instead
To implore a cloud: a state of defeatism?
Nature, you are not the sum of territories
(I remember the scene with the mandarin oranges and watch it as if dissociated from myself. Did it even happen? Was it autumn? What color were the leaves I made into play-things? At the grocery store Mom and Dad choose seven fruits for the week. Poverty was a game? Weplayed it lovingly? I don’t remember the decision to hide beneath the sink. When you found me you lifted me up and laughed, an entire orange in my cheek. I have always wanted more than what I deserved. I have always wanted as much as they would dare to refuse me)

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I start the day by diligently arriving to be processed
Salted bread in my stomach, a little black coffee
Wanting to devote my efforts to sensory description and the alchemy of words
But when I call the thing: it never comes
It hides from me in a hazy cloud, unwilling to be named so viciously
I do, sometimes, miss the paintings of the dock in impressionist style, the urgent green stroke from sky to water
The articulate passage of colour
Elegant unsymmetry
The neon palm trees of my former life close their doors on me, perhaps leaving a note behind, ‘you are welcome’
Of my two names only the one which follows recognizes the other
Is it psychotic to sit inside a winter and wish for the death of some politicians?
When my airplane parked at the gate I looked out the window to see the airplane of my enemy beside me
Were it that death obeyed you without money
Will it have been worth the planet for the weather in December, I wonder?
The ‘o’ of your life existing between vectors, descriptions of vectors elongating towards the margin
Tragic geometry where two lines meet, not a metaphor, a graphable phenomenon
A wish wished at the airport, a fingernail dipped into the silver bowl
The pleasure of being there in the poem is the pleasure of the poem’s burden
The length of the shadow of the color, it pleases me endlessly


These poems appear in The Lifted Brow #29. Get your copy here, or read the get the digital edition here.

Wendy Xu is the author of Phrasis (Fence, 2017), winner of the 2016 Ottoline Prize, and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Poetry, A Public Space, and widely elsewhere. Born in Shandong, China, she lives in New York City and serves as Poetry Editor for Hyperallergic.