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Lantern Letter: a Zuihitsu

By Ching-In Chen

My people – I see you across street, porch people, huddled under brick archway, watching what pours from sky. Wading in water, what circuits it carries – mostly numb, small, what might feel like circuit’s end.

          Stay home, watch streets filling up & draining & filling up again, my neighbor with no shoes & an umbrella knock on doors to locate whose car in the street flooding up. He knocked on our door (and another one – fleeting back – knocked a few minutes before), and said, Hi, I’m your neighbor.

We miss what’s been paved over, all branches holding down our dirt, keeping paths flowing away.

          A lake in library parking lot. Women calling to each other over and above it, heading to their free computer classes. My people of the flashing lights, pulsating throbs. Carbon Monoxide, Methane, Oxides of Nitrogen. Cousins released 180,565 up into stream, 287,453 emissions. These are among us too, carried into our stories “if we would have only sung to find each other. Or taught ourselves to read the waves.”

If only grown resistant skin, hard-fired to stand through ravenous beetles stripping off all trees, 33 trillion gallons. What slugs, what acoustic activities swallowed and sat, stared down, with glass eyes.

          Vow to share our four teaspoons of coffee, open backdoor at your knock, lend the orange cords, handheld pumps, small towels to slick off oil anomalies, watch for rising sheen in horizon, melting glacier, to remember its full and terrible man-eating weight, to walk through rain down boulders singing lines of poetry to the bears, announcing hey hey we are here, don’t worry, nothing to see, nothing to eat.

If I see you coming, I vow to slow down, walk step besides you, not leave you wading through sluck, not leave you stacked chairs-high for rescue. “Hundreds climbed silent up the highways, looking for more silence.” I’m done with fleeing. Even as you walked besides me, I feared your ever-growing branches would wild out my own tin. I kept saying, thank you, nice to pass and cross, and leave-taking. You waited for me, the only two large clumsies under a finally darkening midnight sky, saying hello again, hello.

          I vow an impossible hello.



NOTE FROM AUTHOR: I chose the zuihitsu, a Japanese hybrid form which uses fragmentation and juxtaposition to loosely “follow the brush,” because it seemed the ideal form to explore the possible connections and kindnesses between strangers ( in Houston, Texas and in Seward, Alaska) in a time of impending ecological disaster. The words “if we would have only sung to find each other. Or taught ourselves to read the waves" and "Hundreds climbed silent up the highways, looking for more silence" are from Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ M Archive: After the End of the World.




Listen as Ching-In Chen reads "Lantern Letter: a Zuihitsu."

Added: Monday, August 26, 2019  /  Used with permission.
Ching-In Chen
Photo by Cassie Mira.

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2009); recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017; winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry); and how to make black paper sing (speCt! Books, 2019) and Kundiman for Kin: Information Retrieval for Monsters (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2020, Leslie Scalapino Finalist). Chen is also the co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press, 2011; AK Press 2016) and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (Achiote Press, 2009). They have received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda Literary, The Watering Hole, Can Serrat, Imagining America, the Intercultural Leadership Institute and are a part of Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. They are currently a core member of the Massage Parlor Outreach Project and a Kelsey Street Press collective member. Please visit their website. Please visit their website.

Image Description: a black and white photo of Ching-In Chen, a genderqueer Asian American standing against a brick wall.

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