poemoftheweek poemoftheweek.com poemoftheweek.org poem of the week

02-25-2019

Jennifer Chang

The Winter’s Wife 

It will be years before I understand 

failure. The sun’s last rage 

in the winter trees. My yard  

is a failure of field. It is small 

and poorly tended. Years before 

this hard kernel of worry 

rises to a truer height, I can learn 

to make shade with my palms, 

but I cannot learn to unmoor my want.  

I want wild roots to prosper 

an invention of blooms, each unknown 

to every wise gardener. If I could be 

a color. If I could be a question 

of tender regard. I know crabgrass 

and thistle. I know one algorithm: 

it has nothing to do with repetition 

or rhythm. It is the route from number 

to number (less to more, more 

to less), a map drawn by proof, 

not faith. Unlike twilight, I do not 

conclude with darkness. I conclude.

How to Live in an American Town 

 

I woke early to find the dog once again 

sleeping alone in the front room. 

He dreams what I dream: blue-eyed  

 

children somehow mine, somehow 

upright as the summer grass, taller than this rain.  

I have never had a dream come true.  

 

No, not true.  

There was the one about you, 

 

the one where the kitchen catches fire, 

and you are the only one who knows 

not to pour water on the flame.  

 

And the fire was like my dream children. 

And everyone is standing quite tall, 

 

our heads brushing against a low 

cumulus cloud, submitting ourselves 

 

to the blind craft of terror.  

I’ve been unkind to strangers, 

 

unkind to you.  

I did not thank you about the fire,  

which to this day still scorches.  

 

This is true. 

I opened the door and bargained 

 

with the dog: If you run,  

I’ll relinquish the dream to you. You love the field, the blue eyes… 

 

What do I love?  

I love the dog. I love an empty room. 

I want to love more than I know.  

 

I’d like to never know the dog 

dying, that he will die,  

that I don’t know that I don’t know 

 

he’s dead now  

because I’m listening to the rain.  

So run with him. Please. 

 

Take the kitchen fire.  

Run, heart, run, you’ll hear me  

 

crying at the threshold. 

Run as far as Duluth. Helena. 

Lone Pine, California.  

 

Run farther. 

 

To a town like this one, 

but without all the lousy rain.  

I hear grief burns faster there.

Again a Solstice 

 

It is not good to think 

of everything as a mistake. I asked  

for bacon in my sandwich, and then  

 

I asked for more. Mistake. 

I told you the truth about my scar:  

 

I did not use a knife. I lied  

about what he did to my faith  

in loneliness. Both mistakes. 

 

That there is always a you. Mistake.  

Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed, 

 

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor Polaris. 

Not a mistake is the blue boredom  

of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae! 

 

We swim in glittering murk.  

I tread, you tread. There are children 

 

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,  

the lifeguard perilously close to diving.  

I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.  

 

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet 

for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe. 

 

I was young and broke. I swam 

in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.  

Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion  

 

I’ll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,  

kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread. 

 

What does it even mean to write a poem?  

It means today  

I’m correcting my mistakes. 

 

It means I don’t want to be lonely. 

 

-from Some Say the Lark, Alice James Books 2017, selected by POW Spring 2019 Guest Editor, Vandana Khanna

PROMPT: In Chang's "Again a Solstice," she asks, "What does it even mean to write a poem?" Her answer: "...correcting mistakes." Write an ars poetica (a poem about the writing of poetry) in which you arrive at that question and, perhaps, answer it.

BIO: JENNIFER CHANG received a BA from the University of Chicago in 1998, an MFA from the University of Virginia in 2002, and a PhD in English from the University of Virginia in 2017. She is the author of Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017) and The History of Anonymity (University of Georgia Press, 2008). She currently serves as an assistant professor at George Washington University and lives in Washington, D.C.