The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
Nancy Chen Long is the author of Wider than the Sky, which won the Diode Editions Book Award, and Light into Bodies, which won the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. Her work has been supported by a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship and the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award.
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Nancy, what poems have you brought for us today?
Altered State at the Grocery Store
By myself at that late hour, I study the uniformed rows—
months and months of potential meals boxed and lining the freezer.
I fling open the glass door. It’s not only the burst of cold
that’s so startling, but a kiss, warm at the nape that makes me
flush, and two arms around my waist pulling me in against
the sleepy memory of one man’s body. There’s no time
to be afraid. The best way to remember is to forget. Glancing
over my shoulder, I recognize the familiar outline
of a face, a quirky grin. Pressed against him, my back is warm,
my face, cold—too close to the frozen door. He hugs me tight.
We laugh. I feel a rhythmic thud, the battering knot of his heart.
“There are no fires to winnow,” he says as if he’s been gone a while,
which startles me awake. The bedroom window is wide open.
Winter washes over me, frost on the glass pane.
[From Wider than the Sky (Diode Editions, 2020). First published in Tar River Poetry.]
Swarms of newcomers invade the park.
As the light fades into an odd blue
hue, the boy stares upward, in his hand
a fortune cookie. The scope of the sky
doesn’t matter when the noon-day
moon invites you to escape.
A gaggle of befuddled geese escape
to a moss-covered pond. Scooters park
along a picket fence, bringing in more day-
trippers impatient for an eclipse. The blue
sunlight edges toward gray, but the sky
is still bright. The father fidgets, his hands
arguing with a camera. The boy hands
his father the fortune. No one escapes
alive. He pockets the fortune as he eyes the sky.
In an old pickup truck, the mother arrives. “Park
the picnic basket there,” the father points to a blue
tarp weighted with limestone. “Every day-
dream is a ready answer,” she thinks, her day
overrun with dreams. Her right hand
holds a blank book, while her left holds blue
orchids. A turquoise-tinted hummingbird escapes
detection, zipping toward her. The park
floods with tourists the way the sky
floods with birds. “Soon there will be no sky
to see,” a passerby whispers to the boy. Today
is the boy’s birthday, and the ballpark
is where he’d rather be, trying his hand
at magic. Once, the boy narrowly escaped
disappearing into a crowd. Once, out of the blue,
the sun was swallowed by the moon. “A blue
moon is not an abomination, and the sky
is not the limit,” says the mother to the sun. “Escape
is in the mind,” says the father to himself. The day
inches along, people hand-in-hand,
singing, in love with astronomy. Park
rangers pass out glasses in the parking lot. Blue
petals spill from the mother’s hand. The father escapes
into a daydream. Their son stares at the prophetic sky.
[From Wider than the Sky (Diode Editions, 2020). First published in Valparaiso Poetry Review.]
You've been listening to the poetry of Nancy Chen-Long on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.