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
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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