Above: my neighbor's feet, fussing from room to room, velvet hooves tendering my head. Was the fruitcakecurdling? Would the mail make it there on time? (it must make it there on time)? Below: I try to lightthe stove. Little clicks of the tongue, heat and water, my altar. Underground: my grandfather breathes through a silk jacket,a dandelion mane resting between his lips. Here: every living thing is an altar. Sweet worms kiss his knuckles to sleep,loose doorknobs I open: story after story. My family: a spiral staircase, a fish spine picked clean, the snail'smiasmic song. 1982: sun gasping through splintering snow, a lemon slice folded in my mother's cup, a generousbulb, a lighthouse across oceans she can not see. 1985: we slept in a split-level attic, squirrels running acrossthe beams. 1964: my grandfather offers my mother one egg. Her brother looks on, fists full of ash. 1967: to makethe body dance with sticks and stones to break alone. Within: prison, rose finch feathers float through bars, what he can nottalk about. My grandfather sings to me in a ladybug-speckled coffin, the color of good teeth. Above: my grandmother keepsheaps upon heaps of oil containers, poured and repurposed in hunched Fanta plastic. This living can be so quiet sometimes,you can hear the lights humming. Moss slinks into my walls and is painted over, white to mint. I touchthe wall, these porous lives, this dense understory. Today: I cut a telescope in two to see everything inside, out:new.
“Tenants” (poem) from How to Not Be Afraid of Everything by Jane Wong, Alice James Books, 2021.
Jane Wong is the author of How to Not Be Afraid of Everything (Alice James, 2021) and Overpour (Action Books, 2016). A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships and residencies from Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room, the U.S. Fulbright Program, Artist Trust, the Fine Arts Work Center, Bread Loaf, Hedgebrook, Willapa Bay, the Jentel Foundation, Mineral School, and others. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University.
"Jane Wong is a poet who hears the past breathing inside the present, inside the body, every shivering-alive sense. This immensely moving book is a lyrical reckoning with the colossal losses of modern Chinese history; these poems simultaneously inhabit contemporary immigrant life in the U.S. with uncompromising compassion. Instead of a linear document, Wong embraces collage, lacunae, and a kaleidoscopic questioning of what refuses both forgetting and easy remembering—what pulses beneath the amnesiac surface with shimmering fierceness."
"Jane Wong makes a family's immigrant legacy visceral in piercing, deft language that can't be dodged or forgotten once read. Formally diverse and inventive, taut lines serve us images and insights that aren't easily digested about the brutal blessings that come with split inheritances from the homeland and ‘the frontier.’ These hardy poems faithfully recount and recover no matter how taxing this may be. What a searing paean to the living and the ghosts that both haunt and make anything possible! The title? Wong knows. She knows."
—Kamilah Aisha Moon