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Umbra

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The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
—Emily Dickinson
 
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.]
 
 
 
 
Umbra
 
 
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.
 
 
Nancy Chen-Long

Nancy Chen-Long

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
—Emily Dickinson

Nancy Chen Long is the author of Wider than the Sky (Diode Editions, 2020), which was selected for the Diode Editions Book Award, and Light into Bodies (University of Tampa Press, 2017), which won the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. Her work has been supported by a National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing fellowship and a Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award. You’ll find her recent poems in Copper Nickel, The Cincinnati Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She works at Indiana University in the Research Technologies division.

This week on the Poets Weave, Nancy reads "Altered State at the Grocery Store" and "Umbra," both from her new book Wider than the Sky.

[Note: "Umbra" was first published in Valparaiso Poetry Review, and "Altered State at the Grocery Store" was first published in Tar River Poetry.]

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