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8: Chen Chen

Queer Poem-a-Day is a program from the Adult Services Department at the Library and may include adult language.

In the World’s Italianest Restaurant

by Chen Chen

……….in memory of Justin Chin, 1969-2015
OK but why aren’t more people talking about the fact—the undeniably
indisputable fact—that you were hot?

A simple Google image search confirms this. My erogenous zones
affirm this. You with your

tattooed arms, which clearly you knew were A Key Feature, yes I’m talking
about all those photos

in a plain T-shirt, polo, tank top. You with your goatee & mustache,
the stache I’m trying

these days to emulate. Did you ever go full-on caterpillar with that?
Did it work—meaning,

was it hot? These are the questions I need to ask you. If only
we’d met. I wish we could meet,

this bright blue afternoon, in the boba tea shop down the street, the spot
I always ask folks to come to,

even from the afterlife, or what must be the bluest of oblivions.
But if you’re feeling

fancy, let’s go to that Pizza Hut, the one my aunt took me to once, in Xiamen,
& let me tell you—

stunning. Like a seriously Italian Italian fine dining establishment.
I’d order us a large

pepperoni pizza, then between bites tell you about the white guy on
who called me an “identitalian clown”

for posting “nonstop” about race. I’d write a poem called “White Guys on
but I’d rather not further exhaust

my exhaustion. How tired were you? Growing up?
In those last years?

Some days I wonder if I’ll make it to your age.

Scrolling down the same image search, the cover of my first book
pops up,

from an article about Asian American poets. Gutted
is highlighted, your

last book of poems. I wish I could’ve sent you my first. & told you
what it felt like to find yours,

Bite Hard, in a college library. The way I hid it
between two more

innocent-looking books I’ve long since forgotten. This habit I began
in high school—sneaking

into my backpack, then my room, all the queer
lit, every bit of this

aliveness I could find. The fact—the fact I’d love to dispute, deny,
but can’t—that it took

until college to find books & writers both queer & Asian.
How I’m still shedding

the unaliveness, the lie that queer & Asian must mean un- & never-
innocent, that to live

like you is to choose pain & sorrow
& pain.

Have you heard about this new virus? That a body like yours, like mine
is once again presumed sick,

preferred dying, pronounced tragic-
ally already dead?

I wish, I need to: send you this poem. Or better: for us to write
together, to compose an acerbic yet ecstatic

epic called “Identitalian Clowns” that recounts every moment of the bright
afternoon we ate pizza, while talking

about how painful this world has made our living—
as well as how hot & mustachioed

& hot
we can’t help but continue to make ourselves.

Copyright © 2022 by Chen Chen. This poem was originally published in bath magg, 2022.

About the Author

chen chenChen Chen’s second book, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, has been selected as a best book of 2022 by the Boston Globe, Electric Lit, NPR, and others. It has also been named a 2023 Notable Book by the American Library Association. His debut, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, was long-listed for the National Book Award and won the Thom Gunn Award, among other honors. A 2022 United States Artists Fellow, his work appears in many publications, including The New York Times and three editions of The Best American Poetry.

Queer Poem a Day graphic

Queer Poem a Day: Lineage Edition

Queer Poem-a-Day is directed by poet and teacher Lisa Hiton and Dylan Zavagno, Adult Services Coordinator at the Deerfield Public Library. Music for this third year of our series is the AIDS Ward Scherzo by Robert Savage, performed by pianist Daniel Baer. Queer Poem-a-Day is supported by generous donations from the Friends of the Deerfield Public Library and the Deerfield Fine Arts Commission.

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