Jennifer S. Cheng: Three Poems

Anthropology of the Body [2.1]

Having spent months under water an infant knows something
of echolocation. I was not ready

for this much intimacy, so I planted a garden of tomato seeds
in the corner, where the light did not yet

reach. I called a person on the telephone, and held
the mouthpiece to the grain of the floor. In between

the sky wombed a storm, and my mouth was all shadow.

In between I did not know how to locate myself. Sensitive, subterranean,
a nod, a diagnosis. A child runs into the ocean

and I cover my ears. The body knows
when something large has shifted: it accumulates

loss in hidden places—joints, crevices, between bone—until
suddenly recognition hits and manifests itself:

the body, parallel to the earth, convulsing like a wave.

Grotesque Jellyfish Heart

Free-swimming gelatinous umbrella, you are made mostly of water. We are told to be good, honest creatures, but half-truths, like your shell, are half-open, letting all the liquid in. When he said you navigate by holding yourself askew, he meant you let the currents carry you, he meant you bear no gravity of your own. There is nothing hard, nothing calcified, to keep your body upright. Instead you swallow everything weightless in your undersides, pretending they are kernels that give you shape. Ventricular lover, unfaithful organ, tooth of a promise once heard in passing: an overheard heartbeat, a joke about mammal skulls and carnal bones. Fearing a defective body, you reach out for defective bodies in bloom. Fingernail skeletons, carcassed enamel, bits of gravel inside your cascading layers. Gather your lies, your unkempt house, your quavering shell. Your body, a loose net cast in partway secret, partway shame: if in the ink of some oceanic ground you find yourself lost or easily punctured, do not pretend your eye is not a gyroscope to orient skyward, the roots of a mangrove not stars by which to navigate through.

we are bent on dissolving

so I wake up swimming in

shadows overflowing all over the house

walls, sun, a kind descent

existence blurs in such water

so I wake and a week has passed in a crescent

shape drifting timidly across the bed

if I could fill my house with objects: x-

ray machine, reverse kaleidoscope

to know once and for all

what the body looks like filled with light

Jennifer S. Cheng writes in the intersection of poetry and essay. She is the author of HOUSE A, selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Book Prize, and Invocation: An Essay (New Michigan Press), an image-text chapbook. Her writing appears in Tin House, AGNI, Mid-American Review, Black Warrior Review, The Normal School, The Offing, Entropy, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She received her BA from Brown University, MFA degrees from the University of Iowa and San Francisco State University, along with fellowships and awards from the U.S. Fulbright program, Kundiman, Bread Loaf, and the Academy of American Poets. Having grown up in Texas, Hong Kong, and Connecticut, she currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a founding editor of Drop Leaf Press.