In Taiwan the rain spits on my skin.
I lose the way to my grandmother’s
house, eat a papaya by the side of the road,
papaya in Taiyu meaning wood
melon. My grandmother’s house is wood
& always wet, as if absence
holds water. As if drowning
itself. My stomach oversweetens
on fruit, wears a belt of rot. Pre-
typhoon heat coiling back
like a punch. I take a train from Yilan
to Taipei, the same route
my mother fled when the Japanese came.
By the side of the road, she saw a child eating
another child’s face. What my mother
ate during wartime: five flies
in oil. The open sores of fruit & so
much rain. Once, a girl gunned
down with her mouth full
of milk. Once, my mother
bent to drink from another
girl’s mouth. In Taipei, I watch bodies
syrup in my heat-slow sight. A blonde
woman in an advertisement
for skin bleach, looking like
my ex, looking like my first
-world face. I watched
the typhoon from the 65th
floor of the Marriot, watched
smaller buildings lean
like thirst to water. After, a salt scent
inflecting the air. In my mouth, a sea’s
accent. In Yilan, they will gather the dead
parts of the trees & burn away
the rot. It was my grandmother
who taught me to burn
only what you must, then water
the rest. Who taught me
that a tree is a body
through which water becomes fire.
In Yilan, my mother harvested sugar
cane, dragon’s eye, unidentified
limbs, small & sickling like fruit
fallen before it is ripe. In another country,
my mother watches soap operas
in her native dialect, about time
traveling women who fall in love
with Japanese soldiers. I dream about
being loved in another time
zone. About meeting a woman here,
speaking in a Chinese that bursts
apart in our mouths like fruitpulp.
We will pretend it is love
that lasts. I pretend not to know
what men do. What women
remember. I understand the news
enough to know another typhoon
is coming, another estimated body
count: infinite. According to the news,
it is possible to predict violence
like a storm. I call my mother
& she speaks to me in three languages
but names me in one: Kristin, meaning
bearer of Christ. In my name, too many names
for god. Through the second typhoon,
I sleep with my fist against my jaw,
wake with my teeth hitting ache
like a surprise pit. I dream of telling
my mother I love her
country. I dream of telling
my mother I identify sexually as
alive. Instead, I sleep
until evening, dream of frying
Yilan in an oily dark. When
my grandmother died, we were asleep
in America, 15 hours ahead
in the night, waking up
in her future. When she died, I imagine
all the trees did too. I imagine
the trees I touch are new
generations of the same
loss. I left Yilan while the sea still
boiled with stormbirth. In Chinese,
typhoon is tai feng, sharing a word
with tai wan. A nation named
after its greatest disaster. My body
named for what it bears, what
it bares: this nation,
where nothing is still
waiting to be saved
& the dead are still
What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?
Unfortunately, I’ve mostly encountered the term “emerging poet” in the more bureaucratic contexts of competitions/guidelines/etc. – but I love the idea of encountering it in a new context of perpetual growth and self-birth.I like the idea that I’m permanently “emergent” in my writing, in the middle of birthing myself again and again. Breaking the ground beneath my feet. I’ve also always felt like writing poetry is a kind of puberty for me – an uncomfortable bodily process that makes me feel like I’m waking up every day in a different body.
Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?
The technical “definition” of an emerging poet seems to vary vastly depending on who you ask – and I usually fit those technicalities because I’ve never published a book. But that seems so arbitrary – these definitions are extremely misleading because in so many ways, marginalized poets are always having to engineer their emergence, always having to self-promote and struggle not just with a poem, but whose gazes are on it. I’d like to destroy “emerging” as a credential-based term and think about it as that feeling of constantly arriving somewhere new. Every poem I write feels like my first.It never stops feeling new and strange and unstable. Sometimes, starting a new poem feels like relearning or destroying everything I’ve written before.
What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?
Yikes! I have no idea. I don’t think there is a cohesive poetry community, and there are certainly many poetry communities I have no wish to be read by – there is institutional violence and erasure, overwhelming whiteness and straightness and patriarchy. I feel like the poetry community I’ve chosen is one of mostly teen Asian women (I’m a teen for one more year) who have been writing with me and posting our work together on Tumblr. It’s been other queer Asian poets who have done so much for me, who have recognized me on the deepest level of recognizing themselves in my work. To me, that is the most fulfilling recognition: that someone who shares my identities can see that my work is for them.
How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?
The real question is: how doesn’t it shape the poetry community? Even the entire concept of poetry has been warped by white institutions as something supposedly only white educated people do. From who gets to be an editor/who gets to select the work to how accessible poetry is, everything is shaped by power and privilege. Even on the most intimate level of writing, I am always struggling to get rid of the white gaze, the thing in my mind that’s always asking “is it too cliché for an Asian to write about _____?” “How would a white woman read this line?” Etc. I’m just so incredibly grateful to the Shade Journal and other publications that are doing the space-making work.
What does community mean to you?
Community to me is more than an abstract idea. It’s sharing resources, supporting each other materially and emotionally, and living with your ghosts. It’s the lineage we choose.
KRISTIN CHANG lives in NY. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Muzzle Magazine, Teen Vogue, Foundry Journal, Tinderbox Poetry, Connotation Press, and elsewhere. Her chapbook "Past Lives, Future Bodies" is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2018. She is on staff at Winter Tangerine and is located at kristinchang.com.