Why Write

Wendy Xu

Uncle visits me in the film where the artist encounters a dead man in the park, unconvincingly half-hidden in the bushes, and the chance to photograph death is so electric and brief that the artist runs away, forgetting the camera and the dark hum of the trees at night, runs to find a buyer for the photograph he has already forgotten to take.

Uncle belongs to the airlessness of memory, soft and black and quiet, while I hold to the white of the page, its paling folds, a skiff charging the future, cargo-less, tired. Were it any other color. Uncle doesn't take sides now that he is dead, or he is forever on the side of the dead, who collect their prize every time. I am writing to reach the winning side.

Uncle expels doubt from the sentence threatening to double back on itself, its anger at carrying forth in a mute direction, its grief over where it began. Uncle begins again, while I pluck a memory at random, tender as it is: clear onion stew, from which Uncle ladles up a single unlidded goat's eye, laughs and begins to see us with it. The squealing of children for more, the living oblige. I am not writing to photograph the past. I am writing to sit inside the pauses of Uncle's sentences, the commas of the dead.

The stormless harbor where Uncle rests his head.

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photo of Wendy Xu

Wendy Xu’s newest books are The Past, just published by Wesleyan in September 2021, and Phrasis (Fence), named one of the 10 Best Poetry Books of 2017 by The New York Times Book Review. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Granta, Tin House, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Conjunctions, and widely elsewhere. She is assistant professor of writing at The New School, where she teaches poetry.

The poems in Wendy Xu's third collection, The Past, fantasize uneasily about becoming a palatable lyric record of their namesake, while ultimately working to disrupt this Westernized desire. Who is "the past" for, after all, and what does it allow? Both sorrow and joy are found in these poems, knit into the silences and slippery untrustworthinesses of the English language.

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