Back to Issue Sixteen.

song of the night’s gift



The blind dog, the black ink, the boldly
silly sort of hope I’d have as a child,
the silly bold energy, then exhaustion,
as on a holiday, so happily spent

I forgot to fear abandonment
& abandoned myself beautifully
to sleep, to black night gleaming
with my father’s eyes, his hands

& strange labor, an alchemy of stone
to river, black stone to black black ink,
his nimble brush, the bold leaping
words, I dreamt happily, I still dream

of it, though it’s been years since I’ve
seen it, & perhaps, it never happened,
was simply & always, a blind gift
of the black night, a “memory”

I cherish like a pet, a small guardian
to help banish the day, the fear
that my father will be abandoned
& no alchemy will reach him.



nature poem



The birds insist on pecking the wooded dark. The wooded dark
pecks back. It is time to show the universe what you are capable of,
says my horoscope, increasingly insistent this month.
But what I am capable of this month

is staring at the salt accident on the coffee table
& thinking, What sad salt. I admire my horoscope
for its conviction. I envy its consistency. Every day. Every day,
there is a future to be aggressively vaguer about.

Earlier today, outside the cabin, the sudden deer were a supreme
headache of beauty. Don’t they know I am trying to be alone
& at peace? In theory I am alone & really I am hidden,
which is a fine temporary substitute for peace, except I still

have email, which is how I receive my horoscope, & even here
in the wooded dark I receive yet another email mistaking me
for another Chen. I add this to a folder, which also includes
emails sent to my address but addressed to Chang,

Chin, Cheung. Once, in a Starbucks, the cashier was convinced
I was Chad. Once, in a Starbucks, the cashier did not quite finish
the n on my Chen, & when my order was ready, they called out
for Cher. I preferred this by far, but began to think

the problem was Starbucks, when probably the problem is
human error, casual racism, the history of imperialism,
& Starbucks. Why can’t you see me? I want to say. Why can’t I stop
needing you to see me? For someone who looks like you

to look at me, even as the ketchup accident is happening to
my second favorite shirt? I’d like to live to my wildest humanity,
humanmost wild, to be, at the grocery, unhinged
by pineapples, the aperture of my mouth opened crazy

to the color, the startle, yes, I want to grow tall, post-
apocalyptic pineapples right out of my skull, to erupt
without you confirming such erupting is possible, acceptable
in someone who looks like me. I try to insist on this someone

& a future dark with so many shades of luscious.
But every kind of someone needs someone else to insist
with. I need. If not the you I have memorized & recited
& mistaken for the universe—another you

I am slowly becoming capable of needing.

Chen Chen is the author of the chapbooks Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press, 2015) and Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press, 2016). His poems have appeared in Poetry, Narrative, Drunken Boat, Ostrich Review, and The Best American Poetry, among other places. He has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Saltonstall Foundation. A 2015 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships, he is currently a PhD candidate in English & Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. Visit him at

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