Two Poems by Chen Chen

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

Write a Letter to the Class About Your Summer Vacation

But Class, to tell the truth, I don’t like summer much.
I didn’t like Maine much, though I did
go there this summer & it did have beaches,
& a summer vacation must at some point have beaches.
In fact, I could write a very detailed letter
on the joys of building sand castles & eating lobster
& bumping into Aunt Esther’s favorite author,
Stephen King, all on the same shining beach in Maine.

I could write with deep feeling about meeting Mickey Mouse
on the massive beach known as Florida, the thrill of learning
to surf off the group of beaches called Hawaii, the rush
of standing in the middle of Times Square at night, an ultra-
modern beach featuring wave after flashing wave
of ads. Class, I could write a Harry Potter-sized
saga of a letter, I could make a colorful, multi-panel
poster presentation — on every one of

your summer vacations, not mine. I like
school, you see, September, coming back
into a classroom full of books, full of beaches
I can finally visit, without an airplane ticket
or hotel reservation, without worrying over my
visa status or whether I can be in this country at all.  
Yes, give me books with handmade, brain-fed sand  
spilling hot from the pages — burning sand

to burn away from my fingers the one souvenir
I got in Maine: ink from a fingerprint ink pad, from
the immigration office my parents drove us to,
past the beaches, an ocean of paperwork
where people drown in the words


Mother, you said, If I knew you’d turn out this way,
I wouldn’t have bothered to feed you your whole life,
to feed myself, when I was pregnant with you.

& I thought, if only I could swallow the fistful of pills
or swallow nothing — if only I had a will to starve.

But I didn’t. I don’t.  
& I swear, my mother, even if I can never
speak to you again, say home with you again,
I will speak to my body: Eat.
I will speak to your body: Eat.

Listen, this is our home, our great spinning feast —
the earth.

Chen Chen's work appears/is forthcoming in Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action, Split This Rock Poem of the Week, Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, among others. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he has received fellowships from Kundiman, Tent: Creative Writing, and the Saltonstall Foundation. He is currently finishing an MFA at Syracuse University, where he is a University Fellow and serves as Poetry Editor for Salt Hill. Visit him at