Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Catherine Chen

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[In Egypt, Flaubert says: “The oriental woman is no more than a]

 

In Egypt, Flaubert says: “The oriental woman is no more than a

machine: she makes no distinction between one man and another man.”

On the dancefloor I was once mistaken for the woman I was in

fact at the time in love with. An approach that feels more like reproach.

You must be—her. He was insistent; I obliged him. In supermarkets

I’m mistaken for street corners. Especially intersections. Who are

they but the shadows of someone’s unfiltered desire? I’m no woman.

I am love. Newly awakened to your touch. Newly shakened. Newly wet.

I dispense the feeling. How strangely it simmers in my heart. For

years I held onto the belief that you had always reciprocated my

adoration, that in those early encounters you were blindsided by shame.

Shame works its way through every nook and cranny of my body:

expulsion. There have been years when clenching and retaining shame

was preferable. I cannot justify what I believed or how I behaved. I was

cruel onto others. I accepted painful treatment from the people I

thought I trusted. I ate poorly and my grades still yet were poorer. I knew

that if I didn’t pull myself together I would have no chance at a life-affirming

program so I gave up altogether. That is how I exert power in transforming

my will into a heap of down. Of drunken droopy Duo’s wife, called by all and

sundry as ‘the Mattress,’ Cao Xueqin says: “She was now just turned

twenty, a fine, good-looking young wanton, always eager to

throw herself at whatever partners opportunity might place in her way.”

Perhaps ‘the Mattress’ knew all along that opportunity is an illusion so

you might as well take what you can get. Or that the root of pleasure’s sinfulness

is understanding how fundamentally fucked the myth of the disposable,

wanton female body operates against your instinct to consume. Like raw egg

yolks. Like al dente pasta. Easy does it. Is this how you want to be?

If I were to crowdsource the omnibus of Yelp reviews my former lovers

have written about me, it might be said: “Scornful and haughty.” “A

snob who thinks highly of her intelligence even as she actively

demeans and prostrates others who possess it.” “Pneumatic, petty, and belligerent.

Enjoys watermelon sex, shibari. No anal tho.” “Moans with her tits.” Does an

hour cost more than a sunset? Does a cup of sugar rise with the dough of your

back? How do you balance desirability and survival? How do you make

yourself easy? How do you recognize the edge of the border that is your own body?

How do you grapple the disappearance of ancestry? How do you account

for unnatural forms of movement? Any notion of movement: a

vortex. Declared in the whole of history. I dug this hole. I’ll sleep in it, too.

 

[Wanting is passé. Airplanes fulfill me enough these days.]

 

Wanting is passé. Airplanes fulfill me enough these days.

Up in the sky I’ll gladly listen to blades of grass sing their blues to the

tune of my plane’s excreted pollution. A pause, a smog. The

foghorn of Puget Sound populates my memories of an early in life

family trip to the Pacific Northwest. We were visiting the Zhongs

who immigrated in the eighties. They made a modest fortune in

fortune cookies. The air rotten with fish guts. Day-old compost,

I was later told. My fair host, Qin Zhong, holding my hand as

we darted through the thickly wooded areas of his father’s property.

My father Jia Zheng calling after us to cease. Dusk of another

lifetime. Two young boys. We couldn’t have been more than ten or

eleven. In the PBS documentary your father commanded us to watch,

electrons, protons, and neutrons danced across the hazy RCA

screen. My chapped lips. Your fingers against my knee. So I inched

my left thigh closer. I learned of life’s ulterior motives: here.

What did it teach me? On the speckled slate shag carpet. Cut to

commercial. I missed my sister more than anyone during this trip. Cut to

dinner where you are seated across from me. Our interlocked toes.

Stretch em, touch them. My mother flicked me on the arm

and I remembered myself, lowering my head in deference to Qin Bang-

ye, Qin Zhong’s father. If nothing else I have had an education of

manners that I intend to exploit for the remainder of my amorous life.

Fantasies consume my dreamscape. “Take me into your chamber,”

said the nun before I slit her throat. Protecting purity is passé.

Chivalry is male chauvinist logic. The game ended. My hands

released the Xbox controller. Still shaken, I sat in the attic for quite

some time. I don’t know how many days passed. I resisted orgasm.

I ate a minimal amount of mung bean porridge to satisfy the whimsical

expectations of my father. I communicated in grunts, a nod of the

head here and there. I could sense you were hoping to reach me,

and I know that eventually you will successfully barter the fare for

a day trip from the reaper in order to lie your lithe body on top of mine.

All sprawled out as if preparing for the spiritual takeoff. I despise the

fact that my heart desires you. I love the fact that my heart desires you.

***

Photograph of Catherine Chen by Ayesha Raaes.


Catherine Chen is the author of the chapbook Manifesto, or: Hysteria (Big Lucks) and the forthcoming artist book Other Monsters of Love (Container). Their writing has appeared in Slate, The Rumpus, Apogee, Nat. Brut, among others. A 2019 Poets House Fellow, their work has been supported by Millay Colony, Lambda Literary, Sundress Academy for the Arts, and Art Farm. More from this author →