Kenneth Yuen


                                                       You said, time
does not finish a poem
—& it doesn’t. Maybe nothing
                  does. Maybe a poem is longer
than your nephew’s hat. Maybe it’s hot
as the coffee of god, or the cigarettes
                  in Zion where the ash falls
like I do from the lips of someone speaking smoke.

                             Maybe it all just shifts, slips
                                         through this or that & finds
                             its continuing where it can.
                  The boy in the poem is resourceful.
He categorizes, makes
            lists, marks long & short         & run
            along now     he makes sense where he can.
                  But a person is not a poem
                             & people don’t finish
poems either. I haven’t learned what does.

When I asked, they told me hunger,
fear, abandonment, exuberance & joy
all finish poems. But I don’t know
                  I just see words & movement
cast in shapes through pages & through time.

                             But isn’t it a long time,
isn’t it forever, since you’ve been around.
In another world, I could have known
you, but I know your poems only. How you
finished them, how they finished
themselves or finished you—does it matter
                  if I never know? Here, under the juniper,
my alcoholic, my psychotic muse
has a thing for you.


Jack, I guess it’s just us two Eurydices
                  left under the juniper.
Won’t somebody carry
us out of hell, already? Won’t you sing to me?
Here’s my liver, all in palm;
my voice & body, up for Orpheus’s song.

                  His voice is blooming
                  in the rising tide

                  & his song says winter
                  & his song says yes

                  & his song goes:

                  under the flower of light, I saw time
                  & under the flower of light, I bless’d time
                  & under the flower the flower of light

                  I came to know & recommend
                  this life

So let me say: fuck Orpheus.
In that there is some consolation.
It’s all just fear, Jack.
                                    Aren’t we all
Eurydice, hating the lyre & the words
not the glance that takes       Orpheus away again
toward the world that meant
                  he could never be
ours, that we could never live,
never taste time’s slice and pretend
that something has finality—
but hating always the words time
does not finish a poem
and I am afraid.

This is no place for bravery.What good is that
when there is nowhere worse to go?
                  Let us go down restless to the asphodel beds
those vast, white, breezeless
                                    fields at the edge
                  together so that we may lay forgetting,
forever asking of anything at all, here,

Are there junipers, here,
       in hell?


In the distance are the doors, the empty shelves
made from bright roots,the only
                  remnants of that tree
                                    where we stand & keep;
                  & keep & write.
It’s winter now, the birds
are not in flight any longer, only the snow flurries
                                    fly. You believed a holiday
                  was like a snowstorm
& that people ought to notice it. The juniper is just
the juniper. My mind’s bent in
toward sacred things, because
it was taught to seek
for sacred things. I never really knew
                                    if I could love a man.
                                    Five years, Jack
                  & I had never heard
of you. Five years were not
                                    a tunnel to another time,
                  were not the fallen fireman, relit
into a blossomed light.
                  Five years were three
suicides & no deaths & several
new voices saying: where
are the birds & gods, in brilliant
reds, blacks, blues of hideous flight.
We tunnel empty words through arid time
they said                     & look about to pull.
Another month I come like stars unbounded
                                    radiating light in particles
                  & waves. My history is wider than
its order & its lines. Five years now
I look for you, but only here I’m pulling off
my February face.


                  Then, clearer than day
than the white disk of the sun
than the black robes of salvation
                  of churches or judges
or all the image of children kneeling
to worship in church house pews
for sins they do not understand

comes the image of Judas, alone
                  in a dry field not much
different from the elementary school
where I grew up, running
his hand through the loops
of his hair, running
                  his hands down
the long eternal slide

                  where I played as a boy
where the metal was too hot in the sun
& where I held to the edges, hoping
                                    not to fall off
                  hoping to fall fast
for some kind of thrill
all the time scared & hoping
something I didn’t understand
                  and didn’t want to

hoping always not to be like Judas
running his hands through
                  the last loops of his rope
running his hands upward
                  against a hope

                  I did not understand


I thought of you as a butterfly tonight with clipped wings
your monarch colors spelled
a hole left where I want to speak
I can’t tell you                  that I love you
                                    that I don’t know what love would be

between us    but that to come to it
in a single light
                                    to forge a false

correspondence    Jack—to have called you by your first
name all this time    to have reduced    to a figure

the implacable process of communication
under the hill of our bodies
under the foolishness & desire of bodies
in the curve of sun is all so well

but aren’t we all just looking for light
in the language of yearning
or is it a rain-filled place
where you are giving way
to me giving way    to another giving way
each drop giving
its way to thunder & puddle

                                    where I have felt so small

driven by doubt & a celebration
of thought without angels & innumerable angels
—poet    you said    be like god

                                    but I love chocolate & coffee
& the unfinished curve of the & over itself
& I’m a man in a way I barely understand
& is god like that    I don’t think so
& don’t give a shit if you did
but feel better for you & for me & for having been

someone I love told me to write a poetry that uses all
our intelligence—everything you know
                                    Jack I don’t know if I can
I don’t know if the sun is as wide as I say
I don’t know if I can sing dada to god

I don’t know if losing myself in another is good
& I don’t know if what is raw is raw because it is fast
or what is raw is raw because it is somehow authentic
Jack I am going as fast as I can
I am warlike & weary    I love the moon
whose yellow eye shines on the hill of my body
                                    whose yellow eye shines the hill
whose body is more yellow than god’s body
Jack I don’t know if the blooming clouds will ever blossom
or if the rain is the pollen of the sky

I don’t know if what is beautiful is beautiful
because I can’t explain it
or if I haven’t thought enough about it
Jack I know that men are tough and hardy and strong and all that
                                    but I’m tired of it
I want to press my thin body into the wet & rain
    to grow on the hillside
where there’s a willow grows aslant the brook

I’m making coffee now        the work is long
& I have long to go    & there you are
saying time doesn’t finish a poem
as you move toward Zion borne
on my gin angel beautiful        as snow on Thursday morning
when I am in the arms of another man
& for once the work is cinnamon & coffee & the impossibility
of holding both his hands at once while eating
                                    morning’s half-burnt toast

Kenneth Yuen is a trans writer from Seattle, they received their MFA from Cornell University. Their poetry has appeared in TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics, The Seattle Review, and Winter Anthology.