Back to Issue Forty-Three

The Baby Refuses


to become a poem.

I dipped her in ink and stamped her onto a sheet of paper, and
she rolled off, from belly to back, stubborn, willful, leaving not a poem,
but a Rorschach test in her wake.

I tell her it isn’t so bad to become a poem. I’ve done it many
times. But she again refuses.

I’m a baby, she says. I’m surprised by her firm sense of self.
The soft spots of her head have yet to harden. The top spot pulses
when she cries.

I try to turn her hands into words. I love her small onion-white
hands, the tiny divots of her knuckles.

When she was first born, the nail on her forefinger was long
and pointy as if it had been meticulously filed. It looked like an old
woman’s fingernail, as if she’d gone to a nail salon before entering the
world, readying herself for whatever waited for her here.

When I saw it for the first time, I wanted to cry. I’m not sure
why exactly. I can’t explain it.

I try to force her fingers into the poem. It is a gentle force, but
also a violence. It jars her. She wails. I give her hands back to her. I
hold her, making a shushing sound with my mouth.

I say: Being a poem is to be beautiful, to attempt to express
what cannot be expressed. I offer her my breast, engorged.

But sometimes the inexpressible is inexpressible, she says.
Your feelings for me, for instance.

Still, I try to put it into words. Here she is on this page.

But it’s lonely in the poem, she says. No one visits.


Marianne Chan grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and Lansing, Michigan. She is the author of All Heathens (Sarabande Books, 2020), which was the winner of the 2021 GLCA New Writers Award in Poetry, the 2021 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry, and the 2022 Association for Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Cincinnati.

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