Your emergency contact has called
to quit. Your back-up plan has backed
away. Your boyfriend has joined a boy band
named All Your Former Boyfriends
& Sarah McLachlan. In the ugly
teapot/uglier luggage section of your local
Dillard’s, you would like to scream.
Meanwhile, your father has decided
to pursue his original dream & move
to Australia, the brochure version he fell for
in college. In Australia, he will study Beach
Studies & his Western name Tony
will finally catch on. Tony,
the Australians will say, where have they been hiding
you? & Tony will say, I never imagined I’d be doing
way better than my son. & on his way home
from the school of the beach, its shells & endless
glitter, Tony will toss out a dog-eared copy
of the manual he received upon arriving in America—
How to Have Deeply Sorrowful Exchanges
with Your Son About Your Immigrant Hardships:
How to Make Him Understand He Must Become
a Neurosurgeon/At Least a Dentist.
The manual will go on to a second career
titling academic papers.
Australia will be renamed Tony’s
Son Get Your Shit Together!
will call to say, But
remember? You’re already a glittery stretch
of dream. Your own
we’ll be gone after these brief messages
god stopped by in his magenta rowboat
i said god you have to stop stopping by
if you’re never going to tell me the meaning of life
god said life is meaningless
while language often means too much
my grandmother stopped by & said no
the meaning of life is love
the kind that produces children
why don’t you have a girlfriend yet
my mother stopped by & said look
he’s busy with his studies stop asking
god got back in his turquoise steamship
life is a joyful thing he said
it’s probably very good for you
Your emergency contact has experienced an emergency.
The Texas sun shines hard on everything like a detective.
You hide out, eating every meal from microwavable cans.
Sometimes, you’re studying abroad & ask the kitchen table where to find the
closest subway station.
Sometimes, the kitchen table replies, By the family of cockroaches in the bathroom.
Other times, Language is the last thing you should learn more of.
The cockroach family nods.
The Texas sky changes color like a vast PowerPoint very proud of itself.
You feel like a cockroach except you know how to use the microwave.
Sometimes, every living thing just sounds like: Please.
Other times, Please don’t. Please no.
The mother cockroach says, In the event of a sudden loss of cabin meaning, back-up meanings will drop from the overhead compartment.
The Texas moon shines like a misplaced clue.
Please grab hold of a meaning & pull it to your face.
Your kitchen table shines back, an unsolvable station.
Please hold, pull close.
Please excuse Chen Chen from class. He is currently dead. He came in last Thursday, exhibiting clear signs of dying, such as saying in a clear voice, I am nothing except the wish to listen to Coldplay, & after one too many plays of their 2002 hit “The Scientist,” he is dead. Though few have improved from this condition, Chen Chen has been prescribed long baths in chicken stock & more recent music. Also, some rudimentary Tai Chi early each morning in his room with the curtains drawn. Medically speaking, Chen Chen’s current state is very gross. It would be unwise, however, to try to force Chen Chen, physically or with the promise of new Buffy episodes, back into life. It would be unwise & gross to reach out to Chen Chen’s parents. They are not his emergency contacts & have exhibited clear signs of wishing he were dead, such as saying in a clear voice, You’d be better off dead. Better than whatever you are with other men. Of course, after learning of Chen Chen’s death, they fell to their knees, into a state commonly referred to as “utter devastation.” & it was, in a medical sense, satisfying to hear of their “utter devastation.” But studies show that this state is ultimately bupkis. Studies predict that if Chen Chen recovers, it will take around three months for his parents to find his fully restored state unsatisfying. Or, if he remains his remains, they will find themselves fully content with the memory of Chen Chen, their sweet Chen Chen, before he became so whatever he was. They will think of him, so fondly, while sharing a bowl of strawberry ice cream, the last thing they remember him loving.
A Favorite Room 13
Summer [I have a...] 14
Doctor’s Note 15
Higher Education 16
Summer [You are the...] 17
The School of Australia 18
Items May Have Shifted 20
The School of Morning & Letters 23
The School of Fury 25
Winter [The grackles flap...] 27
The School of Your Book / Letter to Jennifer S. Cheng 29
Study Abroad 31
we’ll be gone after these brief messages 33
Winter [Big smelly bowel...] 37
The School of Red 39
a small book of questions: chapter i 40
The School of More School 44
& then a student stands up, says, Are you serious? 45
a small book of questions: chapter ii 47
Winter [You become increasingly...] 49
Elegy While Listening to a Song I Can’t Help But
Start to Move to 50
a small book of questions: chapter iii 53
a small book of questions: chapter iv 54
a small book of questions: chapter v 56
One Year Later: A Letter 57
Summer [Your emergency contact...] 61
a small book of questions: chapter vi 62
a small book of questions: chapter vii 65
The School of Logic 67
The School of a Few or a Lot of My Favorite Things 69
a small book of questions: chapter viii 72
Origin Story 75
Winter [It’s April. But...] 77
In the World’s Italianest Restaurant 82
Summer [The sunflowers fall...] 85
Things the Grackles Bring 89
After My White Friend Says So Cool
Upon Hearing Me Speak Chinese... 90
Every Poem Is My Most Asian Poem 91
I am reminded via email to resubmit my preferences
for the schedule 92
four short essays personifying a future in which
white supremacy has ended 95
Chen No Middle Name Chen 98
The School of Song, Uno, & Dinnertime 99
One Year Later: Her Answer 102
The School of Keyboards & Our Whole Entire History
Up to the Present 103
I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party 111
ode to my beloveds & brevities 113
The School of Night & Hyphens 119
Ode to Rereading Rimbaud in Lubbock, Texas 120
The School of You 122
Zombie Kindnesses 125
Lunar New Year 127
The School of Eternities 129
Spring Summer Autumn Winter 134
The School of the Unschoolable 136
The School of Joy / Letter to Michelle Lin 138
Praise for When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
‘Chen Chen refuses to be boxed in or nailed down. He is a poet of Whitman’s multitudes and of Langston Hughes’ blues, of Dickinson’s "so cold no fire can warm me" and of Michael Palmer’s comic interrogation. What unifies the brilliance of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a voice desperate to believe that within every one of life’s sadnesses there is also hope, meaning, and – if we are willing to laugh at ourselves – humor. This is a book I wish existed when I first began reading poetry. Chen is a poet I’ll be reading for the rest of my life.’ – Jericho Brown
‘Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities asks how one might find humour, hope and joy amid the tensions that arise from conflicting loyalties. Queer, Asian-American and immigrant experiences collide to inform Chen’s sensual and vivid verse which attests to the surreal and dream-like nature of memory… Following in the footsteps of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara, Chen reaches for the sublime by offering his reader the seemingly quotidian… Chen reminds us in this tender and free-wheeling debut that all relationships are “a feat of engineering”, whether with one’s country, one’s family, or oneself.’ – Mary Jean Chan, The Guardian
‘A book that is miraculous in all its pain, trauma, and humor… This is a book that is part elegy for the past and part love song for the future. This remarkable debut is hopefully the first of many possibilities to come.’ —Victoria Chang, Tupelo Quarterly
‘In a world of bombastic corporate LGBT Pride and an America publicly grappling with immigrant difference and integration, this is essential reading for “love & forgiveness”…’ – Alex Pryce, The Poetry Review
‘The radioactive spider that bit Chen Chen (isn’t that how first books get made?) gave him powers both demonic and divine. The bite transmitted vision, worry, want, memory of China, America’s grief, and People magazine, as well as a radical queer critique of the normative. What a gift that bite was – linguistic, erotic, politic and impolitic, idiosyncratic and emphatic. What a blessing and burden to write out of the manifold possibilities of that contact.’ – Bruce Smith
‘Chen balances the politics surrounding shame and desire with hearty doses of joy, humor, and whimsy in his vibrant debut collection. To consider the titular act of growing up – to recognise what potential could mean – Chen must make sense of his past to imagine a better future in his poems… As a gay, Asian-American poet, Chen casts his poems as both a refusal of the shame of sexuality and of centering whiteness or treating it as a highly desirable trait. Readers encounter sharp, delightful turns between poems, as Chen shifts from elegy to ode and back again… Moving between whimsy and sobriety, Chen both exhibits and defies vulnerability – an acute reminder that there are countless further possibilities.’ – Publishers Weekly
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