Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls

by Chen Chen

Chen Chen

Can’t stop eating you, movie-style extra butter microwave popcorn.
Can’t stop watching you, rented movie about an immigrant family
from Lebanon. Can't help but weep, seeing the family wave

goodbye to relatives in the Beirut airport—tear salt mixing with
popcorn salt. Can’t hide my mess, myself from the friend beside me.
Can’t answer his question, Does it remind you of your family, leaving China?

I want to say, No, it’s completely different, which in many ways it is, but really
I’m remembering what a writer friend once said to me, All you write about
is being gay or Chinese—how I can’t get over that, & wonder if it’s true,

if everything I write is in some way an immigrant narrative or another
coming out story. I recall a recent poem, featuring fishmongers in Seattle,
& that makes me happy—clearly that one isn’t about being gay or Chinese.

But then I remember a significant number of Chinese immigrants
live in Seattle & how I found several of the Pike Place fishmongers
attractive when I visited, so I guess that poem's about being gay

& Chinese, too. So I say to my friend, I'm not sure, & keep eating
the popcorn. Thank god we chose the giant “family size” bag. Can’t stop
the greasy handfuls, noisy mouthfuls. Can’t eat popcorn quietly.

Later, during my friend’s smoke break, still can’t come up with a worthy
response to his radical queer critique of homonormativity, of monogamy,
domesticity, front lawn glory. These middle-class gays picking out

garden gnomes, ignoring all the anti-racist work of decolonization
that still needs to be done—don’t you think they’re lame? I say, Yeah, for sure,
but think, marriage, house, 1 kid, 2 cats—how long have I wanted that?

Could I give that up in the name of being a real queer? Probably can’t.
& it’s like another bad habit I can’t give up. Eating junk, can’t. Procrastinating,
can’t. Picking scabs, can’t. Being friends with people who challenge

my beliefs & life plans, can’t. Reading & believing in Ayn Rand, though?
Can, Brief phase as a Christian because I liked the cross as an accessory? Can.
WWJD? Can. White heterosexist patriarchy? Can. America . . . can’t.

Can’t help but think, when we get back to the movie, how it was my father’s
decision to move here, not my mother’s, just like the parents on screen.
Can’t stop replaying my mother’s walk onto the plane, carrying me,

though I was getting too old for it, holding me, my face pressed into her
hair, her neck, as she cried, quietly—can’t stop returning to this scene of leaving,
can’t stop pausing the scene, thinking I’ve left something out again,

something else my mother told me. Like my grandmother at the airport,
how she saw my small body so tied to my mother’s body, & still she doubted,
she had to say, You better not lose him. & my mother kept that promise

till she couldn’t, she lost me, in the new country, but doesn’t
that happen to all parents & their children, one way or another,
& don’t we need to get lost? Lost, dizzy, stubbly, warm, stumbling,

whoa—that’s what it felt like, 17, kissing a boy for the first time.
Can’t forget it. Can’t forget when my mother found out & said,
This would never have happened if we hadn’t come to this country.

But it would’ve happened, every bit as dizzy, lost, back in China.
It didn’t happen because of America, dirty Americans. It was me,
my need. My father said, You have to change, but I couldn’t, can’t

give you up, boys & heat, scruff & sweet. Can’t get over you. Trying to get
over what my writer friend said, All you write about is being gay or Chinese.
Wish I had thought to say to him, All you write about is being white

or an asshole. Wish I had said, No, I already write about everything—
& everything is salt, noise, struggle, hair,
carrying, kisses, leaving, myth, popcorn,

mothers, bad habits, questions.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

Last updated May 16, 2023