Three Poems by Michelle Chen

by: Michelle Chen

The enthralling power of Michelle Chen’s work, whether original or translation, is that it moves deftly in two directions simultaneously: 1) a tracking of how the quotidian is shot through with the surreal because our perceptions, if authentic, are always partial, unreliable, and open to revision, and 2) as an enactment of an almost boundless empathy, they explore our universal ache of loneliness.


Potter’s Field

Consider names,
++++++the ghosts of clay,
++++++stones, amor.

From far off Guadalquivir
++++++enters the mind
++++++long and inconsolable.

Consider the dates,
++++++caught and carried —
++++++a prayer’s crosshairs

drenched in formaldehyde
++++++and boxwood arms.
++++++In the shade of the gingko trees

consider the places,
++++++dry tulips picnicking by
++++++pointilistic seas of dust

like young children.
++++++No one handles this
++++++air, no one fondles

paupers’ hearts, no one huddles below
++++++the cherry pit leaves. Consider rebirth,
++++++roadkill, an animal’s body,

the cadaver —
+++++++++++++++++kindle the earth, mea columba
+++++++++++++++++and buy the silver of strangers


July Night

Arrive at the boardwalk and sweat the divide.
The hoarders have already descended,
wading through the seaweed into the darkness.

In the evening the crustaceans circle and burrow,
the partygoers’ quiet mimes. Footprints nibble shrapnel.
Someone rolls up the foil of the ocean again and again.

There is a prehistoric lure as they vanish, hunter-
gatherers, hunter feet gathering sand into flea castles
and gatherer eyes hunting dark ocean fizz.

They’ve come far enough. Four cavemen fuse and flare,
unwrapping the cooking skewers of their limbs.
Nature sips the fading firework. Then the muted eyes.


Film (translation, in English, of Pedro Serrano’s “Película”)

On the true screen, reel and film burned,
histrionic stain yawning against the linen
and the scorched stink of contorted plastic,
paper open to sour seep
and icy exposed bulb
against dour peeps.
This hysterical spatter goes on consuming leaflets and judgments.
“They executed it,” they say.
The lonely belt keeps turning and turning,
crick, crack,
with the mercury patina of sleep,

Película by Pedro Serrano

En la pantalla álgida se quemaron el rollo y la película,
se extendió en el lino la mancha loca,
el olor chamuscado e insultante de plástico torcido,
papel abierto al caldo de los ácidos,
la frialdad del foco develado,
a la impotencia inútil de los ojos.
Extendida, la alucinada mancha va quemando sábanas y juicios.
“Los venadearon”, dicen.
La cinta desprendida sigue dando vueltas y vueltas,
clic, clac,
automáticamente indiferente,


Michelle Chen is a poet, writer, and artist who takes inspiration for her writing from the events that occur in and around her home, New York City, though she was born in Singapore and hopes to return and visit someday. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, Bat City Review, The Sharkpack Poetry Review, The Critical Pass Review, Transcendence, Alexandria Quarterly, Polyphony HS, and elsewhere. Her writing has been recognized locally, nationally, and internationally by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, YoungArts, Foyle Young Poets, Ploughshares Emerging Writers, the Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize, the Lancaster Writing Award for Literary Criticism, and the City College of New York Knopf Poetry Contest, among others. She has performed her work at venues including Lincoln Center, Sotheby’s, the National Arts Club, and the NYC Poetry Festival, and has attended writing workshops at Amherst and the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio with the support of the National Society of Arts and Letters. She is currently a senior at Hunter College High School.

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