Jennifer Tseng: Three Poems

Author’s note: These poems come from Not so dear Jenny, a collection I made with my Chinese father’s English letters. In theory, he wrote the letters in English so that I could understand them. While rereading them, I tried to limit myself to two letters a day. When I found a sentence I liked, I’d write it at the top of the page. Then I’d wait and see what happened. To me. To the sentence. Throughout our thirty-year correspondence, one of the sentences he wrote most often was: Save this letter! I’ve tried to do this. At once conversation and argument, white flag and last battle, Not so dear Jenny is a portrait of an immigrant, the history of a family, a letter to a dead father and to death itself. A posthumous valentine that functions as a morbid factory of love, making letters out of letters and so on, it is my hermit’s inheritance. Words in italics belong to my father.

Dear Stranger,

These were worse
Than the labels
Pressed to his letters
By strangers,
By machines.
He was in a rage
When he wrote them.
Each word a smudge of
Poison at the top of the page,
Written by a hand that had been
Contaminated, in a hand
I could die from touching.

We sincerely hope that you’d make the right decision all the time in the future.

The we weighed on me.
More than the sincerity
Or the hope
Or the conditional
Or the right decision.
The we weighed on me
More than the future.
Dear Dove,
I thought we was the bird
But it was only a feather,
Even less than a letter
Flying like dust
Through the ether.
Dear Dove,
I thought we was the bird
But you were.
O, I have outlived we.
What joy to have
Taken its place.

Not so dear Jenny: 

We sew a knot
To hold the thing
That’s dear to us.
Ropes that lashed
Your trunk to the mast,
Cord that fastened
Your briefcase to the bicycle,
Thread at the end of the seam
Down the back of my dress.
Eleven letters to confess
Your love. Three more
To negate it.
Not so, dear Jenny,
Not so.
That knot.
Our fear,
So dear,
Is its undoing.

Jennifer Tseng’s Not so dear Jenny won the Bateau Press Boom Chapbook Contest (Bateau Press, February 2017) and her collection The Passion of Woo & Isolde & Other Stories, winner of the Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest, is forthcoming. Tseng teaches year-round for the Fine Arts Work Center’s online writing program 24PearlSt and this summer, she’ll be teaching poetry at FAWC and fiction at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing.

Image: Alfred Stieglitz