Two poems from Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities
followed by a note on the author
I’m not a religious person but
God sent an angel. One of his least qualified, though. Fluent only in
Lemme get back to you. The angel sounded like me, early twenties,
unpaid interning. Proficient in fetching coffee, sending super
vague emails. It got so bad God personally had to speak to me.
This was annoying because I’m not a religious person. I thought
I’d made this clear to God by reading Harry Potter & not attending
church except for gay weddings. God did not listen to me. God is
not a good listener. I said Stop it please, I’ll give you wedding cake,
money, candy, marijuana. Go talk to married people, politicians,
children, reality TV stars. I’ll even set up a booth for you,
then everyone who wants to talk to you can do so
without the stuffy house of worship, the stuffier middlemen,
& the football blimps that accidentally intercept prayers
on their way to heaven. I’ll keep the booth decorations simple
but attractive: stickers of angels & cats, because I’m not religious
but didn’t people worship cats? Thing is, God couldn’t take a hint.
My doctor said to eat an apple every day. My best friend said to stop
sleeping with guys with messiah complexes. My mother said she is
pretty sure she had sex with my father so I can’t be some new
Asian Jesus. I tried to enrage God by saying things like When I asked
my mother about you, she was in the middle of making dinner
so she just said Too busy. I tried to confuse God by saying I am
a made-up dinosaur & a real dinosaur & who knows maybe
I love you, but then God ended up relating to me. God said I am
a good dinosaur but also sort of evil & sometimes loving no one.
It rained & we stayed inside. Played a few rounds of backgammon.
We used our indoor voices. It got so quiet I asked God
about the afterlife. Its existence, human continued existence.
He said Oh. That. Then sent his angel again. Who said Ummmmmmm.
I never heard from God or his rookie angel after that. I miss them.
Like creatures I made up or found in a book, then got to know a bit.
Second Thoughts on a Winter Afternoon
Your mother is sick & all I can think of is how sick’s
also a word for cool, like ill, though maybe ill
is becoming outdated, & sick too, & actually it’s a lie
I can only think of that, I can also think of my mother,
how your mother’s pancreatic cancer doesn’t sound
as pretty as the problem my mother has with her heart,
heartbeat, & I can even think my mother has it tougher,
though it isn’t cancer, & of course I’d think that, she’s mom,
mommy, though of course this woman is mom, mommy
to you, & mommy is very sick, & actually I hate how words
get outdated or we outgrow them, & think you do, too,
saying things like poochie & good gravy, & maybe that’s why I
call you sweetie pie & you call me sweet baby, & how can we
make things stay? how can I, when my brain is all wind, drift—
while you’re on the phone with thoughtful relatives, I try to
sit, think nothing, but then notice dust swirling in a beam
of bright, so think, as I’ve thought since mom once told me,
that the light made the dust rise, dance, beautiful—
when on second thought, I can see the dust was just there,
just dirt, & the light only made it visible.
Chen Chen grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts and earned his BA at Hampshire College and his MFA at Syracuse University. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. He is the author of two chapbooks, Set the Garden on Fire (Porkbelly Press 2015) and Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press 2016). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Poetry Review (UK), Best of the Net, The Best American Poetry, and other places. He has received fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation, Lambda Literary, and in 2015 he was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships.
I’m not a religious person but" first appeared in PoetrySecond Thoughts on a Winter Afternoon" first appeared in The Massachusetts Review.