Tina Chang

I Will Love the Twenty-First Century

“Although I love the past, the dark of it,

The weight of it teaching us nothing, the loss of it, the all

Of it asking for nothing, I will love the twenty-first century more,

For in it I see someone in a bathrobe and slippers, brown-eyed and poor,

Walking through snow without leaving so much as a footprint behind.”


-Mark Strand




It is the new year and you have entered

into light and see yourself, now, outside of time,

standing with your hurt hand clasped

in the other, mourning the tides.


It was a winding staircase that led to a terrace

with the most intricate flowers.

You existed there and kept writing

the same response on a piece of paper

as if history never collapsed on itself,

as if  you were never opened.


And you say, World, as if it is beginning just now.


It’s almost night, that was a belief,

that was a bird feeding only on water

in the puddle you’re left standing

on that rain-soaked terrain in the other country


I took that bird and placed it on the dark vein of my heart to set it free.


In my dream there are many boats.

There are people floating on a cool ocean current

and there are enough boats to carry them all.

When I arrive on shore, I see weapons.

I name the weapons: machine gun, machete,

grenade, club, razor, nails, sticks, speech then fire.


The world inflicts wounds on itself every day.

One day, the wound was the shape of a star,

the next day a wound in the shape of a mouth

about to praise, another wound the shape of a fist,

ready to pound the tabletop.


I have seen the moon in its most vicious state:

fat, greedy, ready to drop its will and fate.

I have seen the sky around it, exhausted

of gravity and poor wages and rain.

I have seen the trees, shaken into submission,

until they could take no more. Until

they let go their leaves into ragged heaps.


God is in his heavenly seat, face lit

with mercy or madness. We will free ourselves

from the houses that are tumbling.

Here comes a woman in an indigo sari,

she comes out of the doorway, bangles jingling,

sun in her eyes, while all of her belongings pass her.


The songs inside her are a medley that plays

over and over on a phonograph, to the left,

inside the ribcage, cracking a bone with a note too low,

with a note that was off key, her back bent

from tending to the songs, legs buckled from lifting

the songs above her head, arms tired from stoking

the songs inside her like an infinite fire.




You abandoned peace and chose fury

instead. Anger is the horse I ride on now

past field, field, field. Stop.


Just the sky enormous now, rough with clouds,

that shift silently inward until you are born

in that fragile, luminescent egg, the shell

flecking off and light in your hands.


A song gleaming on terraces from which I see

green, meaning everything you’ve ever done

or uttered shines and shines outward.


What would you think before your final day?


I would gather up all my love and look upward

toward fire and swallow my most ancient sound.

Not a cry, but a silence that led me back closer

to seeing, the gauze of my life would wind around me

until I was ancestral, luminous, bountiful

with my hurt and gratitude.


I would travel this path until I was no more,

until I was mute, blind, poor. Until I fell,

broke open like a radiant wound, molecules

of light that served me well while I lived.

All my pages burning. The language

that I knew of love and its tragic interior,

all it lost vowels and lullabyes.


The prehistorics drew one line to symbolize

a man, another line to symbolize a woman,

and a circle signaling the sun that would

give their lives a name. I was born

with six different names and I hold them all close

to me. I step on them, eat them like grapes

I say them over and over until they feel

like mistakes, until they feel perfect.


I am not afraid to say I’ll end one day

but I hope the curse of beauty will last.

The little twig with a flower swelling

at its tip. Its spring and I rise and last and last.

This is a form of getting by, my soft howls,

tears that signify a universe is dying out.





How do you come to terms with what you love?

With the sea’s breaking against your door,

tiny footsteps and then a knock asking to be let in—

asking to be fed.


Because you believe in the good, because you are full of grief,

because the 21st Century finds you trying to tell the truth

though you are not telling the truth just yet.


And we are rising as if for the very first time, out of our seats,

as if for a standing ovation, as if to sing, as if to walk,

as if to labor, as if to build, as if there is so much left to do.