‘Summer’ by Chen Chen​

— Nix Thérèse

I’m always cheering for poems that consistently turn and complicate a few sets of images, and ‘Summer’ does this with dexterity & humor. What immediately strikes me about this speaker is how proximity to others doesn’t equal fond relationship. The kitchen table doesn’t lead them to where they need to go (the nearest subway station in a country they’re unfamiliar with) but instead towards what they’ve seemingly neglected (the cockroach family that inhabits their bathroom). At another time, it continues, language is the last thing you should learn more of, which emphasizes how language keeps splitting itself into different meanings. Often a bond is what actually provides context. Even if the speaker crossed language barriers, they’d still have to break into others’ syntax for true intimacy. In this way, the don’t learn more language becomes interrogate what you already hear.

While the speaker collects all these images and snippets throughout, they press their ear in close to process myriad pieces. Consider how each line splits from the others. Even when the cockroach family nods along to the table’s advice, it’s a separate motion that pans us away from the actual speech. I love how even a reflection shifts to a refraction in this space. Yet there are times when there’s a more communal vision: Sometimes every living thing just sounds like: Please. // Other times, Please don’t. Please no. Though probably addressing different aspects of this landscape, the responses build toward the same sound. Meaning collapses in the face of all this resounding desire. Even when the speaker’s instructed to grab hold of a meaning and pull it to [their] face, they recognize that their sound is one they’ve haven’t yet learned, making this whole grappling even more heartbreaking. How do you move forward when you don’t know your lexicon? Does learning others bring you closer?

Beyond the speaker’s interior landscape, the outlying summer feels evocative because it also highlights the logical opposite: cold. When the sun shines hard on everything like a detective, I can feel the smooth glass that’s refracting that light, shifting warm because of the light-touch. The sky changing like a PowerPoint very proud of itself offers an air-conditioned classroom where the blank screen beams a cold-white before switching those swimming yellows, oranges, red-pinks, purples. Planes are often iceboxes where we bend meaning into the cool plastic mask that must be grasped and pulled to the face for survival. What pulls me back into heat is the body: I can feel the steady thrum of anxiety in the sudden cabin of loss, how they burn with panic until the sound [they] haven’t learned charges from the mouth and steams. Isn’t that summer: not just the heat spanning across, but rising under and even beyond your skin? Isn’t the physical a worthwhile language?

The Lifted Brow