Poem for the Day: September 19th, 2021

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (Winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize) by Chen Chen

In the Hospital by Chen Chen

My mother was in the hospital & everyone wanted to be my friend.
But I was busy making a list: good dog, bad citizen, short
skeleton, tall mocha. Typical Tuesday.
My mother was in the hospital & no one wanted to be her friend.
Everyone wanted to be soft cooing sympathies. Very reasonable
pigeons. No one had the tie & our solution to it
was to buy shinier watches. We were enamored with
what our wrists could declare. My mother was in the hospital
& I didn’t want to be her friend. Typical son. Tall latte, short tale,
bad plot, great wifi in the atypical café. My mother was in the hospital
& she didn’t want to be her friend. She wanted to be the family
grocery list. Low-fat yogurt, firm tofu. She didn’t trust my father
to be it. You always forget something, she said, even when
I do the list for you. Even then.

The language in this poem exposes both the terror and banality accompanying seeing someone you love ill. Small details become our refuge and religion.

I thought today’s poem would be apropos for the world we currently live in, where so much of our collective existence is focused on (the avoidance of needing to go to) hospitals. I’ve been enamored with Chen Chen’s poetry for years now, and his collection (pictured above) that includes “In the Hospital” was in my opinion one of the best of the 2010s. The language in this poem exposes both the terror and banality accompanying seeing someone you love ill. Small details become our refuge and religion.

In the end, we cannot do the thing that needs doing the most, which is healing, a return to vitality, a restoration to order.

We pick minutiae that can be controlled, or at least reasonably assessed, and make that our focus. We grapple with our incompetencies and make lists of all the things we can do and all the things we can’t. In the end, we cannot do the thing that needs doing the most, which is healing, a return to vitality, a restoration to order. That is always thanklessly out of our hands.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities was released in 2017 by BOA Editions, Ltd. and is available to order wherever books are sold.

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