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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

Poem of the Week: Self-Portrait as So Much Potential

As we transition from Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month to Pride Month, contemporary Asian American poet Chen Chen's work feels like the perfect poetry to bring to the table. Chen Chen is quite engaged in the literary world as a writer, editor, and teacher. Chen Chen's debut poetry collection from 2017 has been honored with many recognitions, including winning the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, appearing on the National Book Award longlist, and being named a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and a Stonewall Honor Book for Literature. His second collection of poetry, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, and first collection of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God, are forthcoming.

Chen Chen's work is rife with the details of modern experience, looking both inward and outward, full of the personal and the world at large and infused throughout with candid humor. His personal bio aptly describes him as "interested in Asian American histories and futures, family (bio and found), queer friendship, multilingualism, hybrid texts, humor, and pop culture." It is this idea of interest in both history and future that seems to most acutely describe his poetry. The title of Chen Chen's debut collection evokes the beauty of hope even amidst the challenges of traversing everyday life while navigating a complex Asian American queer identity in our society: When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. It's a title that I find myself murmuring under my breath, a characteristic Chen Chen title in that it feels like a full and delightful thought and poem in itself. Today for the Poem of the Week, I bring you "Self-Portrait as So Much Potential," a poem that captures Chen Chen's humor, personality, emotion, and thoughtfulness... his pure cleverness.

Self-Portrait as So Much Potential

Dreaming of one day being as fearless as a mango. As friendly as a tomato. Merciless to chin & shirtfront. Realizing I hate the word “sip.” But that’s all I do. I drink. So slowly. & say I’m tasting it. When I’m just bad at taking in liquid. I’m no mango or tomato. I’m a rusty yawn in a rumored year. I’m an arctic attic. Come amble & ampersand in the slippery polar clutter. I am not the heterosexual neat freak my mother raised me to be. I am a gay sipper, & my mother has placed what’s left of her hope on my brothers. She wants them to gulp up the world, spit out solid degrees, responsible grandchildren ready to gobble. They will be better than mangoes, my brothers. Though I have trouble imagining what that could be. Flying mangoes, perhaps. Flying mango-tomato hybrids. Beautiful sons.

- Chen Chen

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