what do i make of my face / except

Wo Chan

that it is on meand its physicality )though not me( is how i've been addressedm  y  w  h  o  l  e  b  o  r  i  n  g  l  i  f  ewhen i was ninei watched aladdin and thought, after moneyi wish for whiteness*i didn't even have all my teeth—or vocabulary,just two birchwood hands trying to catch the basketballmy brother hurled at my facewheni was nineteen my ( face )erupted / in nodular cyststhe bleeding jupiter kindof sulphuric condensatesand an alien registration.i had it alla family, some second-hand sweatpants,a genderwhose every sentence beganwheniwasaboyi looked like my mothernow, more like Father, Baba, dadam a full yard of ironywaiting for lightning to lick me back ~oncei was on a gay date (just once)and a hunched-over woman slipped me a white notei thought it said "JESUS"but instead“mario badescu”the skincare brand i would sell months laterwhen i learned to smother the errataof hormonal bludgeoningsto the surface—other children saw derm-atologists at the sight of a curly pubewhile my own motherwheniwasaboy waited until her gallbladder explodedto get her gallstones removed.i watched her dimpled assblow in the wind of the hospital hallwayas she learned to walk againand i slept in her bed and fedher plain contraband congeei am still talking about facesthe dented, fraxeled, mole-scarred and trenched onesi took a pill many times that induced apoptosis“cell death”i could barely afford 4 months ofmy lips peeling like WWII wallpaperthe sex i was not supposed to havedid not happen anywaysas a nude-myself i am cratered irreversiblyso whymust i explain the thoughts i've hadon the things i never got to decidethey happened to me ) happen all the time& i changed         i learned i could keep changingi must to keep myself

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Wo Chan who performs as The Illustrious Pearl is a poet and drag artist. They are a winner of the Nightboat Poetry Prize and the author of Togetherness (2022). Wo has received fellowships from MacDowell, New York Foundation of the Arts, Kundiman, The Asian American Writers Workshop, Poets House, and Lambda Literary. Their poems appear in POETRY, WUSSY, Mass Review, No Tokens, The Margins, and elsewhere. As a member of the Brooklyn-based drag/burlesque collective Switch N’ Play, Wo has performed at venues including The Whitney Museum of American Art, National Sawdust, New York Live Arts, and the Architectural Digest Expo. Find them at @theillustriouspearl.

Cover of Togetherness

New York, New York

"Wo Chan’s debut hurtles past any praise I can heap on it. Acutely aware of the cruelty of the nation-state and of the exhilarating splendor of drag, Chan’s language—razor sharp, captivating—refuses to demure, to clarify. A wide range of formal approaches and a structure that’s sheer genius troubles assumptions, disrupts notions of 'togetherness.' I will be teaching this book."
— Eduardo C. Corral

"It’s no easy feat to tell the truth, nakedly (or at least in a rhinestoned nude illusion)… and Wo does it with so much style, humor, and emotion that it always breaks your heart (and heals it all over again.) Get ready to sob, laugh hysterically, nod knowingly, stop in your tracks and go back and reread it from the start! Give it up for the unparalleled gift that is Wo Chan!"
— Sasha Velour

"Every poem is a mouthful of meat, music and memory. These poems are vulnerable and resilient, fluid and focused. A versatile and verbal poetics—an inimitable Wo Channess anchors these narratives of personal, cultural, and sexual survival. It is possible to live (on poetry) in a country that tries to kill you. The evidence is in every Wo Chan poem."
— Terrance A. Hayes

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