Three Poems by Michelle Chen

Words and photograph by: Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen’s work invents a new way of speaking stark emotional truths. Her images and the music of her language challenge the reader at every turn, asking us to confront the difficult while we celebrate whatever beauty we can find…


The Leper’s Manifesto

First, are you infected?
Have you slipped
a lonely African Grey

into your mouth
and inherited its plucked feathers,

Did you keep it there
through origin and tide
tonguing the mottled

shores of its weeping,
the blue skin of a Parcheesi
elephant loosing a god?

Have you flattened
your nose, lips, teeth
between raspy pages

pressed and preserved
a handful of rusted dahlias
scraping for a bit of spark?

Yes, no, maybe
so be it.
Believe me, the antibiotics

lurch like wildebeest
across the vaulted diaries
and depressor sticks

of moonflower doctors. These
moonflower doctors will try
cough drops, dew drops, suction

cups to lead you through fields
of greening bronze hands pointing
towards the rotted skin of Bethlehem.

The colonies will be brutal. Wisteria
will run a fever from a single glance
at your cracked surface, the dunes

shocked hideous by your old
age. Bats will shriek, fly
terrible acres away.

Unfurl your roll of barbed
wire and crumble a bit of food
for your limp lips

to brush. Settle down
in the bottom bunk
and let the sickly wood

groan your dreams.
Sailor, the black jeweled turtle
looped around your neck

will not let go. Leper spelled
backwards is, after all,

You are thirsty.
Your family will wonder
what they have done wrong.

Stop crying.
Raise your palm and transform
into the loping wildness of Easter,

your shattered nerves threading
spring through your
permanent sores and bunions

in the hour when dung beetles
drag their portable ugliness
against the sky, companionship

with their heavenly dirt.
You want a face like your own.
The bird has never left.


Against the paper, my fingers thrum
like pidgin languages.
Mountainous flesh on my
and a cavernous fingernail
my hopeful cartography.

My Seven-Eleven is a hot spring, a bubbling geyser
where cracked roads meet.
In winter
at the gas station
an icicle hangs from the sign
like the needle of a compass.

My mother’s bathtub
crackles like old paper
sixty gallons of water
from the steel faucet,
three inches of liquid nitrogen
from chemistry class,
the blow of collision
frothing into the air.

shredding apart
in frozen orientation
piled and blurred
like morning fog.

When I show my mother
the cold bathtub
her topography changes, her eyes are scaled back
fewer inches per mile, and quietly
she begins to rain
so that I must thaw for a few hours
the plugged shower
and toss the wet pieces
into the kitchen bag
besides blackened orange peels,
plastic trays of frozen meat projecting
the last contours of bloodied towns.

Twelve winters ago,
trains drew equators
at the subway station.
Inside, people sat bunched,
labeling the frigid air.
I hit,
they yelled.
Underneath the subway guide
glass grew like fields of grass
onto a glacial map.


At the far end of the row
+++++++++++++++++the enthusiast discusses stellar death
like my runaway father.

He is happy
+++++++++++to compare himself to giants
happier soon after
++++++++++++++++++to dwarf.

The lower the mass
+++++++++++the more slowly the star consumes its fuel
++++++++++++++++++the longer it lives.

Wherever he is
++++++++++++++++++It’s not right!
He’s away
+++++++++++unstable shells expanding
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++on a ribbon of hot gas
for within the Orion Nebula
+++++++++++++++++++++++we can observe stars
both within the act of formation
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++and destruction.

But if two old sunlike stars collide
+++++++++++++++++++++++they can fuse together
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++to form a single star
+++++++++++++++++++++++with twice the mass.

In another line of sight
+++++++++++++++++++++++a shaving tool
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++beneath fluorescent lights
+++++++++++++++++++++++on glittering pond

And as the teacher speaks
+++++++++++++++++he folds like radar
++++++++++++++++++++++++++at the end of the land
strung out
++++++in a dense globular cluster
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++to be born again
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++a face in a childless crowd.

Michelle Chen is a fifteen-year old poet, writer, and artist who lives for paper mail, warm zephyrs, and fried noodles, and who takes inspiration for her writing  from the events that occur in and around her home, New York City, though her birthplace is Singapore and she hopes to return and visit someday. She is the first-prize winner of the 2015 Knopf Poetry prize, the recipient of The Critical Junior Poet’s Award, and has performed at Lincoln Center. Her work has been honored both regionally and nationally in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and is forthcoming in the Sharkpack Poetry Review, Corium, Ember, and Night Train.

0 replies on “Three Poems by Michelle Chen”