» Poetry

All Their Awful Particles

I am calling up the dead—the dead of my family.
I pull them out of the earth by their hair, by the fistful.
I scrutinize their bodies, green as acid, for traces of mine.


How can I stop looking at them?
At their faces?


Their bones strung together
are the beads of a necklace
I wind around my neck.


Their lives pour into me through a silver faucet
I cannot turn off. Their deaths, too—


suicide, suicide:
the familial sickness.


Surely it has congealed within me,
all their awful particles.
Surely I have been marked.


If I were the firstborn, mystical or clean
like a sheet of cotton twisting in the wind—




I am a piece of slate stained,
scarred with footprints of the dead.


Are they confessing what they’ve done
to make me?


They lay their hands on me
like strips of seaweed.


When I place my mouth at my feet,
unable to speak,
I feel their malformed sadness run through my hair like a comb.


Wendy Chen

A recipient of the Academy of American Poets Most Promising Young Poet Prize, Wendy Chen has poems published or forthcoming in Crazyhorse, American Poets, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Ghost Proposal, Copper Nickel, and the anthology Translations from World Literature, among others. She received her MFA in poetry from Syracuse University.