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Chen Chen

Elegy for My Sadness

Maybe the centipede in the cellar knows with its many disgusting legs why I am sad. No one else does. I don’t know why I’m sad. I want to be a sweetheart in every moment, full of goats & xylophones, as charming as a hill with a small village on it. I want to be a village full of sweethearts, as you are, every second of the day, cooking me soups & drawing me pictures & holding me, my inexplicable & elephant sadness, with your infinite sweetheart arms. But isn’t it true, you are not always why I am happy. & I promise it is true, you are almost never why, why I am sad. You are just in the same room with me & my unsweet, uncharming, completely uninteresting sadness. I wish it could unbelong itself from me, unstick from my face. Who invented the word ennui? A sad Frenchman? A centipede? They should’ve never been born. They should’ve seen me in Paris, a sad teenage exchange student. I was so sad & so teenaged, one day my host sister gripped my hand hard & even harder said, SOIS HEUREUX. BE HAPPY. & miraculously, I wasn’t sad anymore. All I felt was the desire to slap my host sister. See, I was angry in Paris, which is clearly not allowed. One can be sad in Paris (I was) & one can be in love in Paris (I was not), but angry? Angry in Paris? Now, I am in love—with you!—though sometimes terribly sad for no good reason, & not so much angry as guilty when you say to me, Don’t cry, don’t be sad, as if my sadness could sink this room, this apartment, this whole city not Paris. But does my sadness always need to be your sadness? I wish I could write an elegy for my sadness because it has suddenly died. I wish I could mourn it by kissing you again & again while neither of us can stop laughing, a kind of kiss where we sometimes miss the mouth altogether, a kind of kiss I think every single dead person in every part of the world must crave with violent impossibility. I wish I could peel all my sadness in one long strip off my skin & toss it in a bucket. No one would have to carry it. It would just sit there & be punished. It would just sit there & think about everything it’s done.

Song of the Anti-Sisyphus

for Jeff

I want to start a snowball fight with you, late at night in the supermarket parking lot. I want you to do your worst. I want to put the groceries in the car first

because it’s going to get nasty. Because I was reading today in the science section of the paper that passionate love lasts only a year, maybe two, if you’re lucky.

Because I want to be extra, extra lucky. Because the article apologized specifically to poets—sorry, you hopeless saps—as though we automatically believe in love more

than anyone else (more than carpenters, kindergarten teachers, novelists) & have been pushing this Non-Truth on everyone. Because who knows what will happen,

but I want to, baby, want to believe it’s always possible to love bigger & madder, even after two, three, four years, four decades. I want a love as dirty as a snowball fight

in the sludge, under grimy yellow lights. I want this winter inside my lungs. Inside my brain & dream. I want to eat the unplowed street & the fog that’s been erasing

evergreens. I want to eat the fog only to discover it’s some giant’s lost silver blanket. I want to find the giant & return to him his treasure.

I want the journey to be long. & strange, like a map drawn in snow by our shadows shivering. I want to shiver against you, into you. I want the sound

of your teeth. I want the sound of the wind. I want to be like the kids with their plastic sleds, gliding down, all the way down the hill, then trudging

their sleds & snow-suited bodies all the way back to the top. I want to be how they do this, for hours, till sunset, till some sensible someone has

to come drag them away from the snow, the slope, the 3… 2… 1! of joy. I want to be the Anti-Sisyphus, in love

with repetition, in love, in love. Foolish repetition, wise repetition. I want more hours, I want insomnia, I want to replace the clock tick with tambourines. I want to growl,

moan, whisper, grunt, hum, & howl your name. I want again & again your little dance, little booty shake in big snow boots, as I sing your name.


Chen Chen’s work appears/is forthcoming in Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, DIAGRAM, Tupelo Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, [PANK], Split This Rock Poem of the Week, Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, among other places. He is a Kundiman Fellow, a University Fellow in Syracuse University’s MFA program, and a Poetry Editor for Salt Hill. Visit him at

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