Five Poems

by Jody Chan


 

care work: the new economy

— after Gabrielle Calvocoressi

onions caramelizing in my girlfriend’s cast 
iron, fragrant into a rich chili. zines exchanged
for a massage, almond-oiled hands
unknotting my hips. universal dental 
insurance. access information included in 
the event description. time to be. advice 
on scamming the university to get free
therapy. when I was a child, I didn’t know children
could be protected. now, all the littles in my
life, a luminous riot. library books deployed
before, during, after bathtime. the question
new & welcome— where do you not want to be 
touched?
even if I have no answer. patience.
your attention the whetstone to sharpen my 
dissociated feelings. falling in love with an old
friend. grief like a deserted carousel. grief like
an obsolete appliance. the body— letting 
it body. Saturday afternoon cartoons, chocolate
chip cookies & onesies. income sharing. time
to be. being the middle spoon, in bed between
two queers & that many dogs. bamboo skewers
as surrogate stems for a struggling orchid. slow
healing. feeding plants. elders distributing water bottles 
at the mad pride rally. a single slice of watermelon 
split between three partners. shared inhalers. extra
painkillers. syncopated support, love enough 
for everybody. co-regulation via colouring book 
full of queer affirmations. frosted grass underfoot 
in the morning’s first hours. safety plans that disavow 
institutions, cite only my best people’s phone numbers. 
the question, how do you want this 
to feel?
the answer— your voice, whittled
to a single point of light, saying I’m right 
here
, your face a mercy, your face too close 
to mine to see clearly anymore


second date, after waking up in a new bed

my first thought urges flight, muscles
thrumming on instinct, but your hand 
unconscious saddles my rib cage with
stay, your sleepspit wets my shoulder blade

delightfully. I nose the cold air pooled
in your collarbone and sometimes what trust 
requires of me is so obvious, making toast 
for two or brushing my teeth

over your sink, my stale breath spiralling
this drain for the first time. I have wandered
far from the hospital corridor, the shovel breaking

ground for my body’s first 
consequence, to think I might deserve this
living, as if my life has come

with no yesterdays. a life of decadence. long
showers, mornings without deadline or conference 

call. how bold to think what’s left 
of an apple, sliced and browned, could bear

a fruiting tree. I’ve been told I’m too much
like my mother, leaving her sisters 

behind fifteen hours of flight to follow
my father’s American dreams. confusing 

stubbornness for bravery, I too have begged
willingly into mistakes

for the sake of not being alone. 

almost-love, be more afraid
of hurting me. 

//

I subscribe to the online course Trauma
Survivors in Love.
to contextualize

the risks and rewards, to disarm
my assumed futures. what hurt you?
the disembodied facilitator asks.

my grandma knew the sound of a bomb
could kill just as easily as the bomb. 

proof by one son and then another, scared
to death in the war. this morning through half-moon
lids I count your lashes, the hairs

on your arm. I close my eyes 
and I’m gone, the usual game, disappearance

not a symptom but a strategy for survival.
as a child, I believed in everything.

once in a long panic I bolted barefoot, bare-bottomed
down Dufferin. I ripped staples from telephone poles
to home their teeth into my forearm’s softest flesh. 

my loyal bones, trying to stop me, collapsed 
me to the ground each minute. I need someone

patient. I’ve run away from everyone who didn’t.
since I barely didn’t leap from that Airbnb’s roof
I’ve cultivated a fear of flying. unmanaged 

it succumbs to flashbacks, horror movies watched
through windowed fingers. someday I’ll be far

enough from my history to see the people
I’ve hurt: the girled animal cowering
under the kitchen table, the lover in whose hands

I left my life without asking. if you look
away I’ll die
, I said, too young-hearted

to know another way. my mother
tongue is repetition, is a widowed
father driving his fist into his mouth

over and over. consider the happy
ending, in all its improbable. consider falling 

in love with a boomerang, wanting to own
the air it cuts through. having nowhere 
to go but where it came from.


for Mid-Autumn Festival, we gather

our makeshift family an assembly 
of Chinese queers most of whom 
I don’t know except by their food 
orders the way they pour tea and chart
our overlapping constellations we 
don’t name the ones not here we don’t
grant any absence a place at the table 
on 中秋節 or harvest or moon-bloated
sky we are a feast spilling into two
aisles teaching each other the traditions
we know each story a temporary 
trick to sop the lonely from our throats 
and if you have ever been to Gold-Stone
you know there is no room to linger
between the plastic tables you know
the waitress orbits with no-nonsense 
efficiency and usually in matters of blood
family I err on the side of apology
but tonight the round prayer-bright
moon means reunion tonight my heart 
lulled by laughter is an overfull 
soup dumpling it is a mooncake with ten 
yolks waxing on a staunch diet
of gratitude oh glory that there are
too many of us to fit at one table


fourth date

her face stomps the world to a standstill. the third time we fell 

asleep beside each other, I woke naming our children. I’m not
supposed to skip ahead, only stay 

here where her exhale on my forehead 
means permission to gaze at a stranger’s sleeping chin. 

she seems so kind & I am okay even though 
I have been a wheel beneath a wagon, a blade 

of grass beneath a cat’s paw. 
this could be different. we don’t have to make silt of our 

traumas, we can grow lilacs in empty pots & come up 
for air when our tongues cramp. 

the morning can be a banana split 
open to reveal a fresh body. she doesn’t 

know me but I could love her like 
if she would stay for breakfast or just stay

asleep I’d stop making plans for the other side
of death 


the panel moderator asks about queer love

— with a line from “The Uses of the Erotic” by Audre Lorde

what writing about queer love means to me
I know what he means    he means whose skin
startles a flock of starlings from my hands
he means sex & glitter    soft-stained sheets but

I insist on friendship   on these faces
here for me    beaming like I’m the spring here to
sow their hearts a new garden   as if mine
isn’t the dirt   their gentle hands revised

into an orchard   so here’s the oak tree
whose leaves remind me of your grit   here’s the tea
you steep from mint & honey   the shabby
sofa our cat’s wrecked   oh pain oh wonder

side by side   the last panelist talks romance
the trim  scripted love movies are inked from

***
the trim  scripted love movies are inked from
what I rehearsed the lines for    until my ex
my once-love   germ of my wicked sickness
he vowed to protect me from transition

assign me his desired pronouns   his own
identity at stake   with one point-blank
hand on my chest   the other wrapped inside me
he pulls the beast from me   my body’s name

I pronounce myself later with a hair-
cut   lined up at dim sum   my family
startles at my pruned scalp   ruined girlhood
unfurled in black swathes on the barber’s floor

to them I am misled    daughter stripping
the lessons of the women who raised me

***
the lessons of the women who raised me
self-reliance   success before dating
blur into a glut of faces   endless
parade of lives I swipe left on   retrain

my desire to look past thin & glistening
white   to find lovely   in other kingdoms
tender princes   motherly lovers to strap
my ready skin    I make no matches   run

out of willing strangers to discover
still lonely   still yearning   at parties in
airports   the worst places to be   alone
I skim every room for one-time sweethearts

borrowed darlings   my ex told me his type
once-girls like me   needful & relentless

***
once-girls like me   needful & relentless
we adopt each other    swap soup & child
care   kin together in bed   sick in our
own ways    last week I sardined between you

& two perfect dogs   one of whom shits in
the house   with gay movies   peanut butter
cups & leftover curry   you love me
until I feel like I deserve it   Lorde’s

erotic  & all this joy  not marriage
nor god   nor an afterlife 
just the full
& messy work of dismantling a world
to leave no one behind   & grief polished

like a weapon   & rage & tenderness
I crawled in bed like a child   & I was

***
I crawled in bed like a child   & I was
wanting to lie naked in sheets stained warm
by your skin   to be conflated with a
beloved animal   but my hooves still

roughshod by desire   I love you not
only    but always   on a first date   at
the dance party   if I must trick myself
into a future   I want you in every

room  your thick wit your long    hands oh longing 
oh wonder   am I too sick for care   too
me for trust    my therapist points to the
answer   look she says   here’s the oak leaf you

gifted your friend   their forehead to kiss   some
small joy to hold   & isn’t that the most

 

Writer’s BIO:

Jody Chan is a writer and organizer based in Toronto. They are the poetry editor for Hematopoeisis and the author of haunt (Damaged Goods Press, 2018) and sick, winner of the 2018 St. Lawrence Book Award. Their work has been published in Third Coast, BOAAT, Yes Poetry, Nat. Brut, The Shade Journal, and elsewhere. They have received fellowships from VONA and Tin House. They can be found online at www.jodychan.com and offline in bookstores or dog parks.