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JENNY QI

Jenny Qi is the author of Focal Point, winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Prize. Her essays and poems have been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, ZYZZYVA and elsewhere. She has received support from organizations including Tin House, Omnidawn, Kearny Street Workshop, the San Francisco Writers Grotto, the San Francisco Foundation and many more. Born in Pennsylvania to Chinese immigrants, she has been translating her late mother's memoirs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and immigration to the U.S.



CALIFORNIA DREAMS





GHOST IN THE MACHINE





ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF DEATH

— after W.S. Merwin and Gabrielle Calvocoressi

I have a version of this poem for every year all unfinished but can anything ever be finished

This year I am remembering a poem I wrote before you died I couldn’t write about your dying

couldn’t know you were dying so instead I wrote about Mother Teresa and dandelions wondered what it was like for her to leave her mother her home like a dandelion wisp

become a Mother to many never returning and someone in class asked about the dandelion if it was significant and how and I admitted I only found slivers of connection

so my teacher said the poem seemed a bit sentimental without that grounding

I didn’t write I was wondering how it felt to leave a mother still alive to live your own life the way I know now you are supposed to at that tender age

cleave away visit rarely too busy too costly In the beginning you call every day but sometimes she presses you to live the way she wants for you to be safe

but safe feels like a cage and silence elongates slowly like a plant moved into the shadows searching for light until one day she is no longer there to call

I was wondering how you can leave a mother and never look back

This year I accepted an invitation to do a reading even though I hesitated because I recognized the date and then thought I cannot imagine ever not recognizing the date

exactly a month before my birthday when I remember how you once said you didn’t understand birthdays in America Why celebrate the child and not the mother

when the child did nothing except emerge But even though I hesitated I accepted

and when I told my friend I said I can’t sit around being ritualistically sad this day for the rest of my life—all twenty three years if I make it to your age or sixty years to Nainai’s

or maybe just two—but what I meant was I am tired of grieving and writing about grief

and reading about grief grief its hollow echo in my chest grief my unruly shadow grief the mother I knew grief the mother I cannot know grief the bone-weary grief

This is not what you would have wanted I thought but it’s been so long what do I know

only still you are the shadow and the light over everything






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