Brief Lives [excerpt]

Ken Chen

Descartes in Love

Love, accepting that we are not pure and lucent hearts, ricocheting towards each other like unlatched stars—no, we are tainted with self. We sometimes believe the self is an invisible glass, just as we believe the body is a suit made of meat. Doubt all things invisible. Doubt all things visible.
 

Colin Powell

Not to be a tragic person. What is a tragic person? The victim of a crime who does not realize the criminal is himself.
 

Adonis Prettyboy in Hell

And then her son with love-gun and a quiver
snatched a love-shaft and delivered—a twiggy arrow 
in her nipple like a nasty sliver...
A big pig stuck me with his tusk, but it's life that's the bore, silly!
I never got desire, I always got what I wanted
And in this hallway incredulous of lights, I want wild pears, firm booblike fruit—Daffodils! 
Clovers! And the trill of starlings why not! We could grow 
apples here... Apples? So, I suppose I do miss her

          —You know when I fell out of life
I grabbed her heart like a rope;

Virginia Woolf

 

The target audience of my secrets is not my friends, but my journals and the strangers who will read them in the future.
 

Child of Immigrants

I used to pretend I was American.
This was until I realized I was American.
 

Richard Rorty

What is forgiveness? When someone else's sin becomes merely an action we ourselves might plausibly commit. The virtue of hypocrisy—we temporarily become people other than ourselves and can notice our actions from the other side, as saintly as no one.
 

Io

Symbol is 
abridgement. I am not a cow and Argus not omniscience. 
We are clockfraught beings. 
The man I love stopped my heart when he froze the world to night. 
My heart being part of the world.

More by Ken Chen

Cruel Cogito

How joyous!, 
passing this time alone 
with your father, how bright his golden laugh 
which drew you to laugh yourself uncontrolled, 
how sweet the happy hour oysters you two pry and eat, 
piling wobbling shells that glisten on the table
while the pianist plays by the kitchen doors. 
You find yourself reminded of what you wrote 
in the eulogy: that you two would still possess 
a relationship even though 
he was dead, that you could still 
go and speak with him 
when you dreamed

and so you see the seat opposite from you seats no one.

Related Poems

One of the Lives

If I had not met the red-haired boy whose father
               had broken a leg parachuting into Provence
to join the resistance in the final stage of the war
               and so had been killed there as the Germans were moving north
out of Italy and if the friend who was with him
               as he was dying had not had an elder brother
who also died young quite differently in peacetime
               leaving two children one of them with bad health
who had been kept out of school for a whole year by an illness
               and if I had written anything else at the top 
of the examination form where it said college
               of your choice or if the questions that day had been
put differently and if a young woman in Kittanning
               had not taught my father to drive at the age of twenty
so that he got the job with the pastor of the big church 
               in Pittsburgh where my mother was working and if 
my mother had not lost both parents when she was a child
               so that she had to go to her grandmother’s in Pittsburgh
I would not have found myself on an iron cot
               with my head by the fireplace of a stone farmhouse
that had stood empty since some time before I was born
               I would not have travelled so far to lie shivering
with fever though I was wrapped in everything in the house
               nor have watched the unctuous doctor hold up his needle
at the window in the rain light of October
               I would not have seen through the cracked pane the darkening
valley with its river sliding past the amber mountains
               nor have wakened hearing plums fall in the small hour
thinking I knew where I was as I heard them fall