Chen Chen

“Church on a Wednesday”


Church on a Wednesday


Laid out on the long wooden table, the donuts.
You may laugh at this, but it’s true.

They were better than all the crumbly cereal,
the stiff little packets of tea, instant coffee.
I couldn’t think charity with those donuts before me,
sweetness swollen to the size of baseball gloves.
& bursting—pink, white, even purple.

Can you remember something as wonderful?
My mother let me carry one home, the one I liked best.
At home, I couldn’t wait. I got down on the naked floor.
Yes, I knelt, I held the treasure, its perfect
purple-filled weight in two hands,
my hands.

& my mother glared at me.
Don’t eat, she said, like a poor person.

& the jelly oozed out, a drop fell to the floor.
But purple isn’t, can’t be poor.
I know from books what purple is:
the color of kings, the royal dye
Hercules discovered, the secret gold
of sea snails on an ancient coast,
the mountains & their majesty,
the heart, its bravery.
Believe me.



“Irreducible Sociality”


Irreducible Sociality


No need to remind me of our mutual
friend, the professorial candidate, who’s
steeped in the most thoughtful

of French thought, like a plum
in sweet wine, & who thus tells us how
we must bow before the Other or else risk

our own dehumanization. I know.
But must we really go, on this hellishly
cold winter’s night, to your co-worker’s

going-away, in a tiny downtown bar
where all must jostle for a spot, & nothing
good is ever played on the jukebox?

OK, OK. With great humanitarian effort,
I too put on my heavy coat, ready to step
out. But then you kiss me, & we fall, flop,

our altruistic gesture dropped, giving way
to cuddling, again. It seems tonight
that neither of us can embrace more than

one Other, no matter how fine it sounds
in French. So can’t we just stay in bed,
in our coats, pressed against each

(singular) Other, & otherwise adhering to
Sartre’s l’enfer c’est les autres, till we fall asleep
& dream that we went, that our

dream-throats drank down an appropriately
wild amount of beer, & our dream-hands
threw, one stunning fluke round, a winning

dart? & afterwards, we texted everyone:
Don’t be a stranger, but be
strange. Come by often for a cup of tea,

in all your unbridled unknowability.


Chen Chen