Weeks again of patient blues.

You folded down
into yourself.

You could bear no voice, 
no face
but your own.

Not even mine,
which you said you loved.

The old films you watched without sleep, 
you muted.

You looked from a distance
at figures on the screen:

two lovers
beneath the tracks
standing just apart, entirely themselves
like figures undersea.

Salt gathered on their faces…

And then the days
you leapt out of widening
doors, from passageways, taking me
by the hand outside.

It was a new world.
It had an astral underside.
It was starry all over.  
You were something very young.

That night, I stood in the kitchen
with its ticking faucet.
You slept
in your boatful of dreams.

Water kept coming in,
going out, 
leaving me alone
with the voice of my mother.

Old kernel of a voice.
It was saying Stay, for love.
It was saying Love, stay.

From Unearthings (Tavern Books, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Wendy Chen. Used with the permission of the author.

The universe breathed through my mouth
when I read the first chapter of patience.
I held the book away from my body
when the illustrations became life-like:

the kite flew over the grass, a child tumbled
down a hill and landed at the mouth of neon waters.
The fox curled into itself under the tree
and an eagle parted the sky like the last curtains.

I found myself wandering the forest, revising
the stories as I worked the heavens.
I lived inside the candied house
and hung the doors with sweetness.

I devoured the windows and I was greedy.
With all this sugar, I still felt trapped.
I sought to change the moral
so I filled my baskets daily with strawberry,

thorn, and vine, piled my home
with pastries and the charge of regret.
I placed those regrets inside the oven
and watched the pie rise. I wanted

everything in the pie and yearned
all the discarded ingredients.
I kept myself in the kitchen for years.
Everything up in smoke and yet my apron

was pristine, my hair done just right.
You can say it was perfection, a vision
from the past, waving a whisk through a bowl
as if it were a pitchfork. When I left the house

made of confection, that’s when I began to live,
for everything I gave up was in that house.
I remember you there. Your fingerprints vaguely
visible in the layer of flour on the table.

Copyright © 2020 Tina Chang. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.

It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:

I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion

I'll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I'm correcting my mistakes.

It means I don't want to be lonely.

Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Chang. Used with permission of the author.