“Poplar Street” by Chen Chen

Oh. Sorry. Hello. Are you on your way to work, too?
I was just taken aback by how you also have a briefcase,

also small & brown. I was taken by how you seem, secretly,
to love everything. Are you my new coworker? Oh. I see. No.

Still, good to meet you. I’m trying out this thing where it’s good
to meet people. Maybe, beyond briefcases, we have some things

in common. I like jelly beans. I’m afraid of death. I’m afraid
of farting, even around people I love. Do you think your mother

loves you when you fart? Does your mother love you
all the time? Have you ever doubted?

I like that the street we’re on is named after a tree,
when there are none, poplar or otherwise. I wonder if a tree

has ever been named after a street, whether that worked out.
If I were a street, I hope I’d get a good name, not Main

or One-Way. One night I ran out of an apartment,
down North Pleasant Street — it was soft & neighborly

with pines & oaks, it felt too hopeful,
after what happened. After my mother’s love

became doubtful. After I told her I liked a boy & she wished
I had never been born. After she said she was afraid

of me, terrified I might infect my brothers
with my abnormality. Sometimes, parents & children

become the most common strangers. Eventually,
a street appears where they can meet again.

Or not. I’ve doubted my own love for my mother. I doubt.
Do I have to forgive in order to love? Or do I have to love

for forgiveness to even be possible? What do you think?
I’m trying out this thing where questions about love & forgiveness

are a form of work I’d rather not do alone. I’m trying to say,
Let’s put our briefcases on our heads, in the sudden rain,

& continue meeting as if we’ve just been given our names.


Chen Chen, via Poetry (June 2015).

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