Thursday Dec 07

Kristin Chang Kristin Chang  has been published or is forthcoming in Muzzle Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry, the Shade Journal, Perigee (Apogee Journal), and elsewhere.  She has been twice-nominated for Best New Poets and is currently on staff at Winter Tangerine.  Her website can be found here.

Why I Write: Kristin Chang

I write because, as Jenny Zhang says, poetry can be against extinction, against a reality that "includes my extinction and my families’ extinction, and the extinction of anyone who is not white in America." What is the poetic equivalent of punching a Nazi? That's what I want to be. I am trying (and sometimes, admittedly failing) not to write for white people, not to write for nations and regimes or borders, not to write towards my extinction. It is my responsibility to write for my communities, to write from my body and its volatility; to write for more than just my survival, but also for my joy; to write like I owe nothing to my body, the nation, etc. The men in my life are always congratulating me for my selflessness, but I want to be the opposite: I want to write a self that cannot be lessened. I have no interest in being self-less or sacrificial. The poet does not forget or forgive: she haunts. She is unafraid of her anger, understands it as love. For herself.
Imitation game 

My childhood was a wingless
from my mother every time I
my clothes. I was called a fast grower
            like a weed
or a disease. I wanted to love my
the way white people love their dogs:
            as if
it can understand everything I say to it
            as if
it was bred to be here
            & now
my mother says don’t you understand
I say Truth is, I stopped listening
            in 3rd grade
Vincent Trinh copied my short-answer
on the Continental Congress & Ms. Ascari
            told me
imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
            & later
to another teacher thinking
was out of earshot: those people
to cheat, you know - wasn’t it true
            I knew
the violence of the word
-shot the afternoon I tell my mother I love
woman she is cleaning the sink,
dark with the blood
some animal. The day I was born, she
all night for death, bit the tip
her own tongue. The first time
            I kissed,
I was shocked by tongue, invasive
a second language. For a week
I refused speech, wanting to remain
            the memory
of her mouth over the memory
     of mine.
My mother watches me
& something strangled in her eye:
or maybe me. There was a time
were one body, lobbing
between us like a ball, blood like
river passing through two countries.
in the kitchen where she birthed me, I watch
            my mother
slice meat: blue-veined & paper-thin,
wings. Neither of us moving  
            the distance
between us. Silence like a spilling

Object permanence

My child is the size of a fly &
I zap it out of my body

with pinky-sized lightning. It is not
godly to skewer names

on each of my teeth, to shovel the night
clean of stars, moonlight

stinging medicinal. The doctor
is young & white & after, I find

a bruise hitched to my hip. I pretend
there is something still inside me

trying to get out, knocking
my skin blue. I drove home hating

the city pretending permanence, the sea
faking its sleep. I feel all my pain

in odd places: a fingertip
stirring my eye. A loop

of soreness around my neck.
I remember my father’s dead

ox, the loop of flies around its belly
smoggy with blood. I wear

my blood as a scarf, go to bars
where the light dangles likes breasts

& white men tell me I’m a bad
Buddhist, listing every Asian country

they’ve prayed in. I am thinking
about children, listing

all the places I didn’t want one.
I pray in every space

of my body, imagine the echo
of another heartbeat clasped

in mine, a red handshake,
a truce between bodies.

My child was the size of a sparrow
I shot out of the sky

at age 9. It was an accident.
An accident. I had been aiming

at something beyond, maybe a branch
dizzy-spinning with light, maybe the sky itself,

taunting me with its wholeness,
the bloodless blue width

of my waist, famishing for
any touch that tears

my eyes. I gasp at the still
-lake surface of my belly

& watch for my skin
to wave, for the darting

shapes of swimming things
to shadow my every surface,

signs of life I buried
in my body & left

for dead.

The “you” in my poems is always a woman

I bay you
in my water     -soft palms, I beach         on the shore
                        line of your spine. But I am no marine

mammal, I am the map you follow

to gut it, a knife’s loving
navigation. I am not the prayer
                                 bracketing your breath

I am the god
telling your body to be good

                        to me. Your skin is the sea
                        they rescued my mother from
her own sleep
crowding with ghosts

                        I feed myself to your hand. I call you
harvest, my body a season
                           that gives         under your tongue, I
                                                   am inarticulate


                                                my mouth a suspense, cliff
                                                -hanging from yours

                        Before I knew you, I knew

my body as a genre
of feast

                                    I knew a man sinking
                                    his words in my mouth

like fishhooks:
you are nothing                                  
                                    I can’t kill

the rain spells fingers             
                                    on my skin. I refuge

in the boat
-belly of your heat.     I tear the skin
                                    off the sea

and wear it, salt
our names

                                    to preserve us
                                    in a language we’ll eat

without end

Ku [to work on what has been spoiled, decay]


-plucked & I’m dangerous, ankling into blood

& smiling, teeth all          muscle-cupped pearl

the father in all our         photos, candid as rot

the body: built for study or consumption, love

knows to kill an animal but take nothing from

daughter whose god         is reaching for a gun

Kuei Mei [the marrying maiden]


my mother married           for papers & a name

is a skill to be eaten           monogamy a jaw has

cleaved every siren in half & eaten its source, it

cuts from my skin &         gaps from my blood,

I’m home & I have doubled my bite, shaken the

100 words for god & not one meaning husband

Chung Fu [inner truth]


less & yes I have kissed a girl & been nothing

worse to witness. I live by no likeness, no god

is my father feeling            me for fever. I am

language as surgery            or even just karma

is custody over your own ghosts. I don’t know

mourning, only dusk: light dying its way home

NOTE: This form I invented, called the I-Ching, can be read both top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. Start from the last line and read upwards (left to right, as you do ordinarily), or start from the first line and read downwards. Each verse is structured in the shape of an I-Ching hexagram based on Chinese divination (traditionally, hexagram lines are divined bottom-to-top), and the titles are derived from the names of the hexagrams as well.