The Women Tell Their Stories, and other poems – Ching-In Chen

kundiman, blue-wire postcard


Detroit-bound, US Social Forum-bound, Phoenix airport, waiting to board an overnight.

My mother calls to bring news of the dying.  Passing through the gateway of dawn, half-breaths.

“Fifty Different Tulips,” says Kim-An Lieberman’s book peeking out of my black bag. A red-orange bird made from mulberry-lace paper in Thailand is flying. I’m discarding the blue sun. A girl next to me, communion with her cell, says, I don’t even know where I’m going.

My family constellation, a scatter of telephone wire.  Pressed ears.



The Women Tell Their Stories

after Juan Felipe Herrera

here,                       gliding

the aisles, melted

skulls waiting for grief.

            I am learning the history of this city where fierce love rises from what others do not see.  Survivors easy to spot. 

My father listening for my grandmother’s breaths, she waits for stillness, my mother elsewhere.

29 years ago, man christened by baseball bat.

                                   His mother now in the ground beside him.

Poems on the cold stone.  Prayers laid down.  Others, the faucets of their lives.


                       Martyrs in the vacant slots between us.  We dial these names when we need grief circling in the air.

                                   Vincent Chin, dead.

                                   Lily Chin, dead.


            And then my father.  To write a eulogy about a woman I do not recognize, made up of rubble.


                                   No justice, no peace.



salvaged confessional: a zuihitsu


2 doors from mountain, Riverside, CA.  June 20, 2010 – letter.


He tells me, ask how to write a city vanished.  That’s a different project altogether, she says, peering through her sharp glasses.


Never easy, political poems.  A week of empty words drying against the sun.  After the performance, they find me — clotted, obtuse, compressed into boxes.


No memory banks.  Taking my voice, he says, all I see is a placard on 4th street (made this up) that reads “__________”.  Peer into the fashion store and beyond there is a shoe-shop.


Spread on the wood table, a map by the collective Multiplicity, comparing the time for a person holding an Israeli passport and a Palestinian resident to drag a body across the same distance.  Israeli: 1 hour.  Palestinian: five and a half.  The black lines of text explain the difference — bypass roads // highways // tunnels // elevated link // military checkpoints // avoidance // permission //               I feel the fan whirring above, sleeping house, what lives.


I’ve lost the original thread.  This poem I could easily leave, dusty cadaver.



confessional of a silhouette: a zuihitsu

            after Betye Saar’s “Predictions” and “In My Solitude”


Dead at 38, John Delloro.  Labor leader, resistant heart, I never knew him.  The microphone woman cries confession at the periphery of mourning.  “He promised he would take care of himself.  For his wife, his children.  But he couldn’t stop.  Organizing was in his blood.”


The ladder grows from a scattered pack of cards.  What is risk.  His heart in exchange for theirs.


Another dead man, this one shot in the back.  Ghost hovering in a displaced, deliberating city.  The photos won’t hush up.  Mumia Abu-Jamal from Death Row says, “Oscar Grant is you and you are all him.  Because you know, in the pit of your stomach, that it could have been you.”


In the wall behind, a moon equally attracted to a miniature star and a rolled dice.  Ignore the woman of shadow facing the wall who can’t climb the ladder.


It leads nowhere.  Certainly not to the next window.  A silhouette off the center, turned away from the gaze, reading perhaps.  Whatever it is — a something unintelligible to the naked eye.  One mean lightbulb looking down on a mountain of rusted souvenirs.  Perhaps, she is resting in power.

Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press) and co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press). She is a Kundiman and Lambda Fellow, part of the Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities, and has been a participant in the Theatrical Jazz Institute. She has worked in the San Francisco, Oakland, Riverside and Boston Asian American communities. Ching-In currently lives in Milwaukee and is involved in union organizing and direct action.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.