The Nation

Poetry

the impact of foreign bodies; the earth collapsing

 

A shadow bisects another, which is to say it enlarges itself

The body doubles what it cannot hold

I turned on the TV to drown out my heartbeat

This hefty crime: to obscure a dead insect with your body

Its flesh was weight inside my shadow

I dreamt of my embroidered pocket swollen in a deluge

I heard the clouds telling fist-sized lies

Illegible lung: for what do you []?

Inside an ocean wave, my heart is all treble

Rounded by the fog, I tumble toward the shore

Inside these borders

I have always been ashamed of something

/

Shadows migrate in small amounts across the house

A mollusk leaves a ghost in its path

I am trying to cancel myself out

Rub out: inherited stain

知足常樂, my mother says to me

So much of life I am trying to catch things before they are even falling

Grasping an interval of air: do I hold on for dear life?

I felt a vapor in my chest, a miniature storm—

Meanwhile the forecast outside fomenting

My mother kneeling in the garden

Leaning green capillaries away from the ground

Her broken sound: a tender seed

Inside my joints, a world was growing between the ligaments

I was standing there with my hands rounded

/

To name a weather system and call it mine

To be afraid to let [] have its space

How much of life is lived in embarrassment of a feeling?

I wrote letters to specters: how we are always longing

From the slow inside of sleep

I collected my fear like small delicate things

To save—rocks, leaves, pinecones

Inside the house, I look for smaller houses

My family’s trauma, a paranoia for being wounded

My mother repeats to herself all day, All okay, nothing wrong

History says, All okay, nothing wrong

How nice it is to close the door and forget

Marginal things: salty winds that erode the house

Holes in the ceiling dispersing structural debris

Heavy light at noon

I was tired of the stickiness of the world

Feeling slighted by the splintering window

Doorways that turn away too quickly

Instead: it rained heavily, and I wore the rain close to me

I let it infiltrate my boundaries

As if to say, The body is not a porous thing

/

Standing there with my arms outstretched—

The shape of the earth is a series of concentric circles

The meteorologists say a new category of cloud

And already I know how my body betrays

To crawl like an insect, to emit small barometric moans

Exile is something I do to myself: done to me

Violence sleeps with the humility of a stranger

Its bruises recall magnitudes of smoke

A body’s map, a family’s fieldwork

The weather full of ourselves, brimming, punctuating, leaking

Even the gravel hungers for faraway moons

Even the land moves in millimeters and fractions

Transplanting sky

I do not blame their trespasses

Underneath the contour of me the darkness is compressing like waves

/

In order to not be ashamed in a room

I keep my body as still as possible

To keep my unbelonging hidden

I wear a thick coat that covers both knees

I follow all the rules, snip all the frayed edges

Orbs: these hands I hold shut

Once I alighted at a bus stop in error, my face red as asterisks

Mistakes are the body taking up space

Once a stranger crossed my path, diverted my torso’s shadow

Tiny earthquakes, the way someone forgets to see me

Instead of waving my arms, I whisper into the air, sorry

Even the smallest things to an insect—

Even a slight shift in atmospheric pressure: in my dirty limb

/

There are corners of the house I avoid

Vowels of the house I do not break

I hear noises in the hallway, and my heart is anxious with stones

Do not vacuum over the uneven wood panels near the southern window

Pretend the spreading stain, like rotting mold, does not exist

An acorn drops to the floor

Currents of texture rattle me

To save myself from falling too far, I refused to move

To keep my fear wrapped in layers, I added curtains to the blinds

Nowhere is the ground more uneven than just outside my walls

Nowhere do the clouds enlarge more

Than the eaves inflaming my throat

Jennifer S. Cheng