Table of Contents

 

4 POEMS

Jaye Chen

 

FLOODGATE

Where do I put my shoes? Where do I throw this away? Where is the sink, the trash, the toilet? Where can I sit—anywhere? And since when did it start to get dark so early, so softly, and is it time for me to go? Where are these cars racing off to, driving like fish with divine fury, on this shoddy street by your window? Where are your housemates and your neighbors on this Friday night? Where is the music coming from?

Where was the restaurant you picked up dinner from? (Was it far?) Where did you get this lamp, where did you find this plate? Where do I leave my plates, and do you need any help with them? Where did I put my water bottle, my glasses, my phone? And now, where would you like me to sit? By the table, by the desk? On the couch, on the bed?

Where are you from, and home is where? From where did you and I, having cut our previous lives short, pour into New Haven like flood water, bringing infestations of our own? Where did we first meet, if you still remember? Where did you first open your eyes and see the colors and ideas you would guard to your death? Where should I leave all the things I know with you, and will you duel me for them?

Where are you going next, and where should I be? Where will I find you next, in thunder, lightning, or rain? Where can we be adorned in wreaths by crowds straight out of the floodgates, and where can we be left alone? Where in the world can we be the bitter people we are, in peace? (Not here, in this apartment of plastered white walls? Not here, since your lease ends on the fifteenth? Not here, surely? )

Where will someone drive by at night, when we are giddy and beneath a streetlight? Someone holy and just and baser than us, asking with all sincerity: where to, ladies?

 

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BACKSTAGE

You bled all over the bed backstage, but we pushed you out anyway. Hamlet's mom got her period, never mind the old age: that's how we explained it away. Your nose, flat and stuffed with grief, you'd blow it between every other line as you pushed yourself away from Hamlet (we never see him outside of rehearsals, do we?) but he was sobbing, really sobbing, his head on your legs where the audience could see, the colors Caravaggio-like, his tears snaking through his acne and stubs. The stubs ruined it all. I told them, multiple times, that Hamlet should be clean-shaven, and he should wear eyeliner.

You were seventeen and regal. You looked menopausal. He's so close to the blood down your legs, into the bed. And why were you bleeding? No, he didn't do it right. If I were to act, Hamlet would be a girl, of course.

You wouldn't know, but that stage was really dirty. You could only see all the dust, dead plastic, bits of props broken off, paper shreds, wet spots of spit glowing on the floor, when there was light upon them. While you were out there making these middle-classed, middle-aged, and muffled relatives of ours cry, I would doze off underneath the corduroy curtains, count the stains on the satin, and someone would be making out near the stage door, and Ms. Stern would be like, pull yourself together, next scene, next scene. It's a lot back here, in case you didn't know. I etched your name into the floor, to cope.

It was raining so we had the cast pizza party backstage. You sat where I used to sit when you're on stage, devouring your slice with a frown. I wondered what your troubles were (I couldn't even begin to imagine—you were so beautiful), but I couldn't bring myself to look at you at all. Backstage, there were these little note cards about how Shakespeare meant to outline the infinity of the human condition through the catharsis of tragedy. But into all the mess, the buzz, the blood, and now the pizza grease, we see nothing, nothing despite. I was going to go home and play video games, and you would go and probably cry about some guy who didn't like you for how your nose looked.

I spent half a year watching you from back here and learned nothing for myself. But you spent five nights saying lines you did not mean nor understand. Thereafter, I would jump at every half-hearted mention of Hamlet and Gertrude, thinking about how I dozed off and how you bled. I often wished that I had brighter eyes back then.

 

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DISCONTENTS

In this room we are ageless. We are four and lying blind drunk on this black sofa, cuddling like centenarians on their deathbeds, and we are here on some school trip and I am refusing to believe many things at once. I am not beautiful, in the way that bodies don't have gravity, in the way nighttime refuses to shave off unwanted streetlights. I am not wanted, in the way toothbrushes are not wanted because you already have one, in the way I am blind to all the ways of wanting, popsicles, movies, garage rock, coffee. I am not going anywhere or becoming anyone. I am starting to be unhappy in the way girls are unhappy.

I am not in school, not primary, middle, high. Not employed, heartbroken, worshipped. Not friendly, gnarly, saintly. Not entirely not archetypal. I am deliberately not waking up. I am not hydrated nor secure. I am not negations, affirmations, you'll be okays, I am not ungrateful, ungrown. I am not who I am not. I am not waiting for anything to come.

Let the days pass. Put the change back into the tip jar. Let everything hollow ring out into truth. Let Rilke shake you ("let everything happen… beauty and terror… no feeling is final…") but he is dead and living is forever. So let it happen if you must. Throw down, drink up. Categorically refuse. Let it be known that I will, I will, and I will. Let the future roll over me, like my tongue rolls an unfamiliar syllable, abashed, not knowing that it means love.

I am always where I am not. I raise my eyes up into the world, where all is bare, bare, bare, and I think, uh oh, it's not enough!

I am still ageless, perhaps four years old and dreaming. I am making myself think about having jobs and a family the way people make their eldest son think about things. I think about pins and needles and waking up thirty years old in a bigger bed. I think about when I first started to notice other people. My mind is usually mush save for thinking up words. Why don't I move to Connecticut, America and write prose poems for a living.

 

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CONFESSION

I am sorry about that stain. You would think it's wine, but it was just a plum. I ate it on the couch alone, knowing that people have done worse things there. (I don't think anyone realized.)

I am sorry about the third bathroom stall, which I used exclusively for crying, because its doors were all grey. I should have hid inside here and gossiped about my friend in the other room, or threw up at midnight while kissing the rim and mistaking it for a cold, dirty person. Instead I often played Tetris here, behind locked doors. (So others wouldn't know, of course.)

I am sorry for not leaning against the railing when the sunset was purple, for not hooting at the football field in the hot and stubborn air, a soda in my hand, and for letting my fourteenth year brush through my stuffy face like a breeze through a bloody hurricane. (Excuse the imagery.)

I am sorry for clogging up the shelves with all the things I wanted to throw away. I had to put them out of my sight, the clothes I didn't like and the cutlery and bedsheets I got tired of. I was obsessing over the library books I pretended to read. They made me want to be someone new, and they told me to hurry. (I thought that meant chiseling old parts of myself away, so I never got very far.)

I am sorry that I never visited the art studio, never swam, never stood in the rain. I am sorry I never wanted to scream really loudly at someone from the roof at midnight and never wore enough mascara so that it would stream down my face, if I were to cry. (The moon would be watching.)

I am sorry for closing the windows at night so shouts and serenades never made it into my room, where the walls were painted yellow and on which I wrote things like "ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL", but didn't come downstairs to sing it with everyone that time they actually played the song. (I listened through the walls, I was walling myself in. I was thinking next time, next time. Any moment now.)

But mostly, I am sorry for the wait.

 

 

 

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i had just arrived at my university, and america. the apartment i often visited during the summer is very different from other places people are known to live in. as of references: danielewski's house of leaves, david mitchell, escape, bad decisions, japanese breakfast's jubilee.