Dear Exile

Henry Wei Leung

Two ways I can cross this street:
one in which you’re at arm’s reach,another where I turn and trust
the world to roll each oceanin between us. They unrequite
our names—bittermelon gate,far shore that sates—and wrought
from us a kind of grace, a kinder rot:that I am nothing in your world now.
I wish you nothing-wishes, wholenessas you are. May I find a way through
to your pain, but not to take it from you.May I never take from you again.
May you tunnel inward, break even—and become just what you are: miracle
without solace, burned and invisiblefirefly heaving a burden of light,
your silences freed but misaligned.Didn’t we take the poison, we invocation,
we spring debris forgotten by seasons,we art, we hour of night, lost, veering
to freedom, we windchill not carryingtheir cold but only heat’s absence,
we singeing, skinned matchhead—we signed that archipelago.So bear me away too.
And unbear me in you.

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Henry Wei Leung is the author of a chapbook, Paradise Hunger (Swan Scythe 2012), and the translator of Wawa’s Pei Pei the Monkey King (Tinfish, 2016). He earned his degrees from Stanford and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, and has been the recipient of Kundiman, Soros, and Fulbright Fellowships. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in such journals as the Crab Orchard Review, The Offing, Spillway, and ZYZZYVA. He is the Managing Editor of the Hawai’i Review.

Written in and of the protest encampments of one of the most sophisticated Occupy movements in recent history, Goddess of Democracy attempts to understand the disobedience and desperation implicated in a love for freedom. Part lyric, part autoethnography, part historical document, these poems orbit around the manifold erasures of the Umbrella protests in Hong Kong in 2014. Leung, who was in those protests while on a Fulbright grant, navigates the ethics of diasporic dis-identity, of outsiderness and passing, of privilege and the pretension of understanding, in these poems which ask: “what is / freedom when divorced from / from?”

“Henry Wei Leung’s Goddess of Democracy: An Occupy Lyric is a powerful poetics on civil disobedience. The voice is both impassioned and detached, coalescing into prose passages or atomizing into words scattered on the page. Leung not only documents disobedience, but historicizes it, turns it to a global question, and asks what comes after.”
—Cathy Park Hong

“If you want to hear faint whispers of a future poetics, give a listen to Henry Wei Leung’s Goddess of Democracy. Here, a deft lyric poetry interfuses with radical democracy to compelling ends. This is a book as beautiful as it is bold, as artful in its politics as it is political in its aesthetics.”
—Mark Nowak

“In a bright lexicon of social resistance, Henry Leung has created a poignant, spirited, and ethically-considered collection of poems. The innovative debut is especially welcome in our times of tumult.”
—Kimiko Hahn

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