Or should I call this by its unofficial but easily-recognizable title, Chen Chen’s poop poem? I don’t know exactly how to prepare you for a poem that opens with a line both irreverent and musically, sonically gorgeous: “Big smelly bowel movements this blue January morning.”
Stick with me. If I say the subject of the poem is shit (literally) but the theme is the most tender love, would you believe me? No? Then read “Winter;” let Chen convince you.
Chen’s prize-winning debut “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities” (BOA Editions) has been one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past few years. As a poet, a romantic in love, as a Japanese person navigating America, I am heartened by this book, encouraged. Reading this book I have felt less alone and cheered. This poem, a celebration of the body as a vehicle of waste and desire, is no different and leaves me feeling brighter.
One of Chen’s admirable talents is his ability to allow multiple identities (as lover, as a political being, etc.) to inform his poetic voice in an organic way I myself have trouble with. What a thrill to find someone who does what you can’t! He creates harmonies among identities. No wonder it reverberates in so many parts of me. No wonder I am filled with an envy that tasks me to write better.
But I am never discouraged. I am only motivated to be a more complete version of myself. “I am trying to be marvelous” as Chen himself writes.
Lately, I have pondered the nature of action and change, what good we can enact in society. Sometimes I think the smallest acts can truly change the world. A smile to a stranger. Creating a chart in order to make your co-worker’s life just a bit easier (thank you Emilie, for this particular example.) At the end of the day, as in the end of the poem, maybe it comes down to changing the sheets for your sick beloved. When I read “Winter” I am almost sure if we just did one unconditional thing for someone else, if we had someone look at us and simply say “What? Hey. I love you,” I think we might be okay after all.
Yours in words,