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Eye Level by Jenny Xie

— Nicholas Nichols

Folks thought we had it made
Cause we always kept a face
— Valerie June

Have you ever been in the back of a car at night, on a long stretch of road, light flickering in its passing, and you are suddenly alone in yourself? If you haven’t taken a trip with Eye Level by Jenny Xie—it’s a close second.

To call Xie’s collection a meditation would be an understatement. Eye Level is a nomad’s mind in transit. The book is told through a series of vignettes in a time away and alone. Xie reminisces on a life in Cambodia, getting away from her old life, but finding everything so tender:

An hour before midnight, the corners of the city begin to peel. Alley of sex workers, tinny folk songs pushed through speakers. Karaoke bars bracketed by vendors hawking salted crickets.

                    How do eyes and ears keep pace?

Cover features a piece of fruit sliced in half resting on top of a pillow on a bed.
Graywolf Press  |  2018  |  80 pp

Do the tender moments evade us because we are not looking hard enough? Or is it we’re not looking at all? Xie asks the reader, Where are you not hiding? Yes, I ran away. Yes, I am numb. But what about this haunting pain? Xie compels the reader to look inward and look widely. Xie explores these snapshots of Cambodia, she suggests the reader see’s the beauty surrounding them—hidden by their focus on the past. She admits to running away and that’s the first step.

Xie offers a view of the past as one would look at an old selfie. Something behind us, but still brimming with feeling and memory. But most importantly, behind us. Xie’s collection is a reminder that the beauty of the present is that we are now offered the opportunity to provide language to what we once couldn’t articulate.

Suffering operates by its own logic. Its gropings and reversals. Ample, in ways that are exquisite. And how it leaves—not I like how it arrives, without clear notice.

Reading Eye Level is a pilgrimage. To wander the roads of our past hurried thoughts, scattered breath and melancholy days. Eat full the yolk that is today because I’ve grown lean from only eating the past. Eye Level is the message in the bottle brimming with tender love letters to anyone who's been found without a home.


Graywolf Press